Working with Onsite Science: A Place-Based Approach to Science for Land Management
Natural resource managers entrusted with the stewardship of our public lands have long known that decision-making related to restoring, managing, and protecting these ecosystems in a sustainable way is complex. They need relevant, up-to-date information to understand and manage specific landscapes. Much research on public wildlands, however, is conducted by scientists based out of university or urban research centers distant from the land and its local managers. Although these research efforts result in valuable findings, the information may not address site-specific management needs.
Adaptive, science-based land management-in which information on status and trends in an ecosystem is continually collected, analyzed, and communicated-is generally accepted as the desired approach for managing ecosystems on public lands (Johnson et al. 1998). Such ecological knowledge is often time and place specific. If there are substantial knowledge gaps in this realm, land managers struggle to make sound science-based decisions. On the other hand, when scientists can interact onsite with managers on a daily basis, effective communication, application, and follow-through of relevant science are greatly facilitated. This is where a place-based approach to science can help.
Bandelier has onsite scientists researching: cultural resources, ecology, wildlife, vegetation and fire effects. These scientists, act as a bridge between research and management, working to identify the information needs, secure external research funding, foster collaborations with outside institutions to conduct needed research, and communicate research findings quickly and effectively to local managers and the public. Place-based scientists develop substantial expertise in the natural dynamics of their particular landscape. Eventually this allows them to become information brokers of the deep-rooted institutional knowledge that comes from being in a place long enough to learn its lessons and grow familiar with its natural and cultural rhythms and history.
Good examples of on-site, place-focused research programs are found at a number of National Park Service units, where individual scientists have devoted major portions of their careers to working in particular landscapes. Such examples suggest that developing long-term, landscape-scale, on-site science programs could be a cost-effective way to meet critical information needs for many public land managers. Establishing additional place-based scientists could foster the development of land management organizations that institutionalize scientific approaches to learning, collaboration, open dialogue, and continual improvement-agencies that truly implement science-based adaptive management.
Resources and References
Adapted with permission from: Allen, CD. A Sense of Place: A Place-Based Approach to Science for Land Management. USGS http://www.fort.usgs.gov/resources/spotlight/place/Default.asp
Johnson, N.C., A.J. Malk, R.C. Szaro, and W.T. Sexton (eds.). 1998. Ecological stewardship: A common reference for ecosystem management. Vols. I-III. Elsevier Science Ltd., Oxford, UK.