Frequently Asked Questions About the Winter Use Adaptive Management Program in Yellowstone National Park

This FAQ document addresses questions related specifically to the winter use Adaptive Management Program in Yellowstone National Park.

General Adaptive Management Information

What is adaptive management?
Adaptive management is a set of management practices that blends science and public engagement, and is designed to address complex natural resource management challenges. Adaptive management enables natural resource managers to acknowledge uncertainties in the management of natural systems, collect additional information, and respond to changing resource conditions while working with the public and interested stakeholders.

What does adaptive management seek to do?
Adaptive management is designed to:

  1. Help managers meet a project's environmental, social, and economic goals;
  2. Increase scientific knowledge; and
  3. Reduce stakeholder tensions. How does adaptive management work? Adaptive management is a three-step process involving management, monitoring, and evaluation. Managers repeat these three steps over time to improve resource management and protection.

Figure 1. The Adaptive Management Process

Adopted from Williams and Brown 2012

Is there a visual of the adaptive management process?
Yes, see Figure 1: The Adaptive Management Process.

As Figure 1 demonstrates, adaptive management is a three-step process that is repeated over time, and involves management, monitoring, and evaluation. This process will be applied to winter use in Yellowstone. In Yellowstone's Adaptive Management Program, the first step will be carried out by park managers who, with public input, will define and implement management actions for winter use that are based on Yellowstone's resource conditions, and the objectives outlined by the winter use final Plan/Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). In the second step, resource monitoring, park scientists will collect data about resource conditions and present it to park managers and the public so that they can assess resource impacts, and the effectiveness of winter use management actions over time. The third step, evaluation, entails park scientists and managers analyzing monitoring data, seeking public input, and then applying the results to modify winter use management actions as appropriate going forward.


What is collaborative adaptive management?
Collaborative adaptive management is a type of adaptive management that emphasizes joint learning and active partnership between managers, scientists, and other stakeholders, including the public.

What does "learning" mean in adaptive management?
"Learning" means collecting additional data through the monitoring of resource conditions over time and then analyzing that data along with public input to identify opportunities to improve natural resource management.

Where has collaborative adaptive management been implemented?
Collaborative adaptive management has been implemented across the National Park System and worldwide to address complex natural resource management challenges. For example, the U.S. Department of the Interior has put into practice an adaptive management program to guide changes to the operations of the Glen Canyon Dam and protect downstream resources in Grand Canyon National Park.

Will the National Park Service use collaborative adaptive management to help manage Yellowstone's winter use?
Yes, Yellowstone National Park's winter use Adaptive Management Program will be built upon partnerships and shared learning between Yellowstone scientists and managers, interested stakeholders, and the public. Yellowstone's approach will blend science, management expertise, and local knowledge about winter use.


Adaptive Management for Yellowstone's Winter Use

How will adaptive management be applied to winter use in Yellowstone?
Adaptive management describes both the program and the management process the National Park Service (NPS) will use to assess the implementation of the new management strategy for winter use as outlined in the winter use final Plan/SEIS (Appendix D), the Record of Decision, and the winter use final rule (as published in the Federal Register: Volume 78, Number 205, 10/23/2013, pages 63069-63093), which can all be found here: Yellowstone managers will initiate an Adaptive Management Program that will oversee the adaptive management process, including public and stakeholder engagement, the design of monitoring tools, and the preparation of an adaptive management plan.

Why is adaptive management important for winter use in Yellowstone?
Adaptive management will allow the NPS to continuously improve winter use management in a manner that considers the visitor experience and seeks to reduce environmental impacts. If ecological and social monitoring shows that the impacts to the park are not what the NPS expected—as described in the winter use final Plan/SEIS—adaptive management will allow the NPS to learn from and modify its management actions and implement better management strategies with public input.

What are the goals of the Yellowstone Adaptive Management Program for winter use?
The ultimate goal of the Adaptive Management Program is to continuously improve the management of winter use in Yellowstone National Park. Specifically, there are three main objectives guiding the winter use Adaptive Management Program:

  1. To evaluate the impacts of oversnow vehicle (OSV) use and help managers implement actions that keep impacts within the range predicted under the final Plan/SEIS.
  2. To gather additional data regarding the comparability of impacts from a group of snowmobiles versus a snowcoach.
  3. To reduce impacts on park resources after implementation of the final rule by gathering additional data regarding the overall social and ecological impacts of winter use and using those data to guide future management decisions.

Hasn't the NPS gathered enough data on winter use already?
Yellowstone has a lot of information about winter use and its effects on visitors and the park's resources. However, a new rule is being implemented and the park's natural and cultural resources are constantly changing, so it is prudent to continually evaluate the rule's effects on resources and the visitor experience and consider adjustments to maintain high quality visitor experiences and minimize impacts on the park's resources.

How will the NPS fund the Adaptive Management Program? What resources are available?
The NPS is committed to implementing an Adaptive Management Program for winter use, and will seek funding for the highest priority monitoring initiatives.

Will the Yellowstone Adaptive Management Program result in a "plan"?
Yes, the Adaptive Management Program will produce an adaptive management plan. This plan will define which affected resources should be most closely evaluated going forward as well as what resource indicators and monitoring methods are most appropriate for assessing resource conditions.

How does the adaptive management plan differ from the final Plan/SEIS?
The final Plan/SEIS describes the impact of several winter use management alternatives (scenarios) on park resources and the visitor experience; the adaptive management plan is a process-oriented document that will describe how the NPS will monitor and evaluate the new management strategy for winter use.

What are resource indicators?
A resource indicator describes what scientists will measure to evaluate changes in park resources over time. For example, one of the affected resources related to winter use is the park's air quality. In order to monitor air quality, scientists could look at the levels of carbon monoxide (CO) inside the park as a resource indicator to determine whether air quality is declining or improving.

Is there a need to prioritize which resource indicators should be monitored?
Yes. Although the NPS and its partners may wish to monitor many resource indicators, the adaptive management plan will focus on the most important resource indicators – those indicators that will best enable the NPS to address key uncertainties in winter use and improve management going forward.


Public Involvement

What is the role for the public in Yellowstone's Adaptive Management Program for winter use?
Yellowstone will work with all interested members of the public, stakeholders, and any other individuals or organizations to define what resources are most important to monitor going forward, to identify what the highest priority knowledge gaps are related those resources, and to determine the most appropriate indicators and methods for assessing resource conditions.

What will the public be asked to do?
The NPS will ask the public and interested stakeholders for their input and recommendations on the monitoring strategy and evaluative steps in the Adaptive Management Program. The NPS may ask the public to join working groups to evaluate key affected resources, such as wildlife, and to design monitoring strategies for them. These recommendations would then be incorporated into the adaptive management plan.

Who can be involved in the Adaptive Management Program?
Anyone with an interest in the park and winter use is invited to participate. There will be a number of opportunities for public input and engagement. If you have questions or would like to be added to the mailing list for the Adaptive Management Program, please contact Alicia Murphy, Adaptive Management Program Coordinator at Yellowstone, at e-mail us or (307) 344-2627.

Are there any upcoming public meetings I can attend?
An initial public meeting about Yellowstone's Adaptive Management Program took place on Friday, November 22, 2013 at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. Additional meetings took place via teleconference in January and March. The next in-person meeting will be held on June 4, 2014 in Jackson, WY at the Center for the Arts. More details will be forthcoming. Please contact Alicia Murphy, Adaptive Management Program Coordinator at Yellowstone, at e-mail us or (307) 344-2627 with questions about future meetings or other questions.

What kinds of issues can the public comment on through the Adaptive Management Program?
Any public feedback on what resources or topics need to be monitored and how they should be monitored as part of an Adaptive Management Program will be welcome. Public input will also be sought as the NPS analyzes monitoring data and evaluates the effectiveness of its management strategies.

How will the NPS share data from the Adaptive Management Program with the public?
The NPS is committed to open and transparent data collection and data sharing. On a regular basis, the NPS will convene public forums where scientists will discuss the information gathered through winter use monitoring. The public and interested stakeholders can learn about and comment on these monitoring results. The NPS will also share data and program updates via an adaptive management webpage:


The Future of Adaptive Management and Winter Use

How might adaptive management change winter use in the future?
Through the adaptive management process, the NPS may find that we should change the way we manage OSV use in the park. Those changes could include, for example, establishing timed-entry requirements or staging at the entrance gates for OSVs, adjusting speed limits, or closing certain OSV areas, routes, or entrances.

Can adaptive management cause Yellowstone to increase the number of authorized transportation events for winter use?
No, the NPS could not, under any scenario, authorize more than 110 transportation events (the maximum number of events evaluated under the Selective Alternative for winter use) through adaptive management.

Can adaptive management cause Yellowstone to increase the number of non-commercially guided snowmobile events?
The NPS believes four non-commercially guided events are appropriate. If more non-commercially guided groups were added, it would cut into the 46 commercially guided groups currently authorized. However, if the NPS collects data through the adaptive management process that shows that it can allow more than four non-commercially guided groups without increasing impacts and that there are unused commercially guided events, then the NPS could allow more non-commercially guided events. The non-commercially guided events would be allowed in place of the unused commercial events. This action would require an amendment to the final rule.

Will any management actions proposed through the Adaptive Management Program require additional NEPA review?
Perhaps. If a proposed management change is outside the scope of the final Plan/SEIS, taking such action may require additional environmental review through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and/or rulemaking.

What is your timeline for the Adaptive Management Program?
The NPS has engaged stakeholders beginning in the fall of 2013 to begin work a long-term, collaborative, and sustainable adaptive management plan for winter use management in Yellowstone National Park. The timeline for the program is as follows:

  1. An initial public meeting was in Bozeman, Montana on November 22, 2013 and two other teleconference meetings were held in January and February. Another meeting will be held at the Center for the Arts in Jackson, WY on June 4, 2014.
  2. The NPS is working with the public and interested stakeholders to form working groups to determine which affected resources require the closest evaluation as well as what resource indicators and monitoring methods are most appropriate for assessing resource conditions.
  3. During the winter of 2013 and the spring of 2014, the NPS will incorporate public input into the preparation of a draft adaptive management plan, and the design of any monitoring pilot projects.
  4. The NPS expects to present a draft adaptive management plan and any associated pilot projects to the public in summer 2014.
  5. The NPS expects to implement a preliminary final adaptive management plan, including a pilot monitoring program, no later than the winter season of 2015-2106.
  6. The NPS will continue to work closely with stakeholders and the public to refine the plan, and expects to complete a final adaptive management plan by March 2016.
  7. The NPS expects to begin implementing the final adaptive management plan during the winter season of 2016-2017.
  8. Upon completion and implementation of the final adaptive management plan, the NPS expects to hold regularly scheduled stakeholder meetings to discuss its data and findings, and obtain feedback from stakeholders on NPS recommendations.

Will monitoring be conducted prior to the implementation of the final adaptive management plan?
Yes, the NPS will conduct baseline monitoring during the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 winter seasons. This information, in combination with data collected over the previous four winter seasons, will provide an understanding of natural variability and changes in visitor experience from 2009-2015. The NPS expects to implement a pilot of the adaptive management monitoring program during the 2015-2016 winter season (as described in the preliminary final adaptive management plan).

Where can I learn more about adaptive management?
Here is a brief list of additional resources that discuss adaptive management:

Web Examples of Collaborative Adaptive Management Projects

Written Resources
Brunner, Ronald, Toddi Steelman, Lindy Coe-Juell, Christina Cromley, Christine Edwards and Donna Tucker. 2006. Adaptive Governance: Integrating Science, Policy and Decision-making. New York: Columbia University Press.

U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). 2008. Adaptive Management. Departmental Manual 522 DM 1. Washington, D.C.: Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance.

Folke, Carl, Thomas Hahn, Per Olsson and Jon Norberg. 2005. Adaptive Governance of Socio-Ecological Systems. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 30: 441–473.

Gunderson, Lance and Stephen S. Light. 2006. Adaptive Management and Adaptive Governance in the Everglades Ecosystem. Policy Science 39:323–334.

Holling, C.S. 1978. Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management. Caldwell, NJ: Blackburn Press.

U.S. National Park Service (NPS). 2006. Management Policies 2006. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Interior.

Susskind, Lawrence, Alejandro E. Camacho and Todd Schenk. 2012. A critical assessment of collaborative adaptive management in practice. Journal of Applied Ecology (49):47–51.

Williams, B. K. and E. D. Brown. 2012. Adaptive Management: The U.S. Department of the Interior Applications Guide. Washington, D.C.: Adaptive Management Working Group, U.S. Department of the Interior.

Williams, B. K., R. C. Szaro, and C. D. Shapiro. 2009. Adaptive Management: The U.S. Department of the Interior Technical Guide. Washington, D.C.: Adaptive Management Working Group, U.S. Department of the Interior.

Additional Information about Yellowstone's Winter Use

Where can I read more about the history of winter use in Yellowstone?
The webpage contains links to several documents that explain the history of winter use in Yellowstone, including a timeline and links to previous planning documents.

Where can I read more about the winter use final rule released on October 22, 2013? The NPS has prepared a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the winter use final rule, which can be accessed here:

Did You Know?