The Bay Program has taken the first big step toward accountability and adaptive management with the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, in which the partners have clearly stated what we hope to accomplish. Now we need to specify how we intend to achieve these goals.
We are at the point where aspirations begin to face reality. This is also the point at which science can truly begin to guide our plans and activities. As the Program’s Goal Implementation Teams begin to develop management strategies for each of the Agreement’s identified program outcomes, there are a number of questions that must be answered if we are to judge our chances for success.
The most critical question is, “What are the things in this system that will affect our ability to succeed?” In answering this question, it is important to remember that the “system” includes everything: the Bay, the watershed, all of the plants and animals found here and especially all of the people living and working in the watershed. Physical, chemical and biological processes must all be considered, as must the understanding, interest and capacity of the human inhabitants.
For example, restoring oyster populations requires good water quality, suitable substrate, adequate food supplies, reduced disease impacts, limited predation, control of fishing pressures and public commitment to provide the resources necessary to do all these things. In addition, success can be impacted by changing climate, significant weather events and new pollutants.
The point of identifying all of these factors at the outset of management planning is to ensure that we are considering everything we know about how this system operates. This is a very simple form of an ecosystem model. While we acknowledge that our understanding of the system is incomplete, it is important to identify what we do know, and specifically what we understand to be impacting the desired outcome both positively and negatively.
Other questions that need to be asked are: “How important is the factor to attaining the outcome?” and “How good is our capacity to manage the factor?”
We need to be particularly concerned about things that can prevent reaching the desired outcome. These are the things that will have to be managed. And for these things we need to perform a factor analysis to assess the probability that we can manage them effectively.
The factor analysis generates a de facto list of essential actions for each outcome. For every critical negative factor there should be a corresponding management strategy that we believe to be effective.
Matching planned management efforts to the list of essential actions is one piece of program accountability. This is the check at the beginning of program actions that ensures we are actually doing all that we understand to be necessary, and that we are
not seeking to accomplish things that are outside of our control.
The other reason for investing some effort to think comprehensively about things that might impact desired outcomes is to document current understanding. If our resulting management efforts fail to generate expected outcomes, the implication is that our initial understanding was inadequate.
With the documented starting point, there is an explicit set of assumptions that can be re-evaluated, amended or enhanced. The initial factor analysis thus forms the basis for continual improvement in management efforts.
Kirk Havens, chair of STAC, also contributed to this commentary.
The Chesapeake Bay Program Partnership’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee — which consists of 38 independent scientists from more than a dozen universities, scientific organizations and agencies — provides the partnership with scientific guidance regarding efforts to restore and sustain the water quality and living resources of the Bay.