Adaptive management (AM) is a systematic process intended to improve policies and practices by learning from the outcome of management decisions and to reduce scientific uncertainty. While many nations are considering the use of AM for wind energy, its application in practice and in policy has been limited. Recent application of AM has led to fundamental differences in the definition of AM, its application, and the projects or planning processes to which it might be applied.
As a starting point, we discuss a definition of AM that includes the key attributes of posing hypothesis-based questions for data collection, retaining a level of adaptability for monitoring and management actions throughout the process based on outcomes, and enact AM as an interactive process that provides feedback between the assessment of impacts on wildlife, wind energy project design and implementation, monitoring and evaluation of effects on wildlife, and adjustment of management requirements. The paper also examines how AM has been applied to wind energy development around the world with additional focus given to US examples. Natural resource legislation, regulations, and guidelines for wind energy project management in some WREN member countries were found to include the explicit use of AM, while others apply some or no principles of AM. We found that of the 16 wind energy AM plans prepared in the US, most did not fully meet the DOI AM definition, but rather demonstrated a high degree of variability in the processes used to make management decisions and relied largely on predetermined mitigation triggers and actions. Additionally, US stakeholders were interviewed to determine their perceptions of the usefulness and application of AM to wind energy projects. Respondents generally acknowledged the regulatory benefits of acquiring added decision-making flexibility through AM in the face of unexpected impacts, but highlighted the effect that AM can have on project financing, the confusion around a common definition and approach to applying AM, the high degree of variability among AM plans, and the lack of tools or specific guidance to direct preparation of AM plans. Lastly, the challenges and opportunities associated with implementation of AM for wind development are addressed, management actions in nations that exhibit attributes of AM are compared, and pathways to appropriate application and potential broader use of AM are explored.
Overall, AM approaches should seek to leverage lessons learned from existing projects to inform future management decisions. This paper recommends that the AM guidance be improved as follows:
- Adopt a universal definition of AM that is coupled with an agreed-upon set of eligibility criteria and consistent with the regulatory context in which it is being applied.
- Optimize the spatial and temporal scales over which AM is applied for their ability to reduce scientific uncertainty.
- Let the application of AM be guided by the need to minimize undue financial pressure on projects while ensuring that the natural resources of the nation or region are protected.
- Establish formal processes and structures within national or regional regulatory bodies to make use of environmental impact data from existing projects to generate knowledge that can be applied to the planning and management of future projects.
The one page summary below provides highlights of the material in the white paper.