Institutional Learning

in the Everglades, California, the Pacific Northwest and Yellowstone

John Craig, Maynard Hiss, Barb Houren, and Jackie Wilson

John Craig

The three modes of institutional learning and change outlined by Westley are:

I would say that there are elements of each of these learning modes seen in all of the case studies. In the Everglades, each of the management eras had its own characteristics. In the "cut and try" era, Broward served as a visionary for drainage and development, then the Corps of Engineers entered in planning mode for flood control. Other stakeholders entered the process, such as the Soil and Crop Science Society. Marshall served as a visionary to move management into the "no easy answers" phase and create the Water Management District, which is now one of the most important institutions in the process, but I would say that Everglades management at present is largely characterized by the learning mode, as many stakeholders are involved making their voices heard.

In the Northwest forest issue, the article focuses on roughly one time period, and there seem to be several learning modes at work. What stands out to me is the strong role that scientists have played in the process, who collectively seem to be bent on changing the way natural resources are managed to reflect new understanding of ecosystems that has been accumulating over several decades. In this respect, the northwestern old growth forests may be a watershed case. The basis of this understanding is the high degree of integration and interdependence within ecosystems. In this sense, to focus the debate on the spotted owl was a vestige of the old way of thinking, and it backfired. There was no single visionary that stood out in the process, so I would say that the dominant learning mode is somewhere between "top down" and "bottom up" with a considerable amount of "inside out" (mid-level scientists leading the debate with their graphs and charts) and "outside in" (loggers and other special interests making their voices heard).

The Yellowstone case is part of the same process, but much less contentious. Since Yellowstone is the world's first national park, everyone agrees that it must be protected. There is an inherent resistance to change in such a situation, so crisis plays a significant role. The fire that swept through the park a few years ago is an example of this. Some crises are created, such as the introduction of wolves. This was generated by the scientists, based on the ecosystem orientation (not to use the p-word)..

The case of the California sage scrub is very complex, and relies on consensus and cooperation from all stakeholders. Once conservation of species and ecosystem types is a shared goal, and the scale of cooperation effort is understood, the various stakeholders can work towards a consensus on how to implement it. There are no visionaries identified in the article, although they may exist. We may have to distinguish between greater and lesser visionaries. Since action in this case is required from several organizations, some of these may be lead by visionaries, although the whole process is not. I think that a lot of the change in policy is due to people in the governmental organizations simply trying to do their jobs the best they can, and enforce the endangered species act. They see that it can not be successful if is stays focused on individual species, so it is extended to ecosystems.


Maynard Hiss

For eons landscapes unfolded over millennium in response to the co-evolution of natural processes and biotic communities. If there was thinking in the landscape, it was thinking like a mountain, or landscape type thinking. Thoughts in natural landscapes are not just rocks moving about inside the earth but collective thoughts in the communities of life and minerals; a slow but reverberating thought process that manifests as the landscape changes over time.

People are replacing the largely deep internal thinking of landscapes with a strange mosaic of collected thoughts that are mostly parasitic to the natural systems which they command. Chaos and eventual transformation of these systems usually follow this thought process, since the mental inclination to cultivate and harness the work of the landscape leaves little for the balance of nature.

The regions that provide the back drop for landscapes in the stories are transformed; original artifacts are dead and buried often with out an epitaph. No one is sure what the landscapes were or what they did; what remains is a landform medium for a nature of cultural embellishments. One feels a sense of dismay thinking of these stories as successes; ecosystems of green infrastructure (for water supply, drainage and tourists), atolls of coastal sage sinking in a rambunctious ocean of development, forests of manufactured goods: energy, materials, and biomass, and the shrinking green of Greater Yellowstone are sadly wounded and suffer from severe battle fatigue. Only by looking at these landscapes in the context of the morass surrounding them can we even think the people had a vision, a plan, learned. We clearly need better success stories.

In a way I was left with the same sensation I get when I read about the interviews of the strategies of those who won the lottery. There are millions of players and only a insignificant few can win the big one. A statistically insignificant number of people who used the winning strategies won. The lucky one's who get the prize are often left with their lives completely transformed, for which some can not adapt. We are not told of the losers who used the same methods as the winners, because there is no market for their stories. Most of the regions for which these landscapes reside are losers, terrorized unnoticed.

As an activist I have experienced the different roles and strategies that people used, and thought the papers summarized how people are able to accomplish things fairly. Through the years people adapt in different ways to accomplish what they can; some use the techniques to make things better and even more to make things worse. However, what should have been emphasized more was the fact that people need to be creative artisans with not only the tools, but the ideas and paradigms of the eras.

I feel the authors could have explained more clearly how the actors at the range of scales, including the larger temporal and spatial scales operate. They could have expanded on the ecological dimension and the boundaries of the systems; the larger puzzles that these small pieces fit.

How do the big thinkers like Malthus, Muir, and Leopold think and what role do they play. While their thoughts are hard to apply in the day to day world, they are important in that they expand the domain of problems and bring the bigger things into meaning and perspective. They sow the seeds for the higher forms of thought.

Many people enter the arena after being inspired by a mixture of great ideas and moving life experiences but do not know where to go or what to do. Little was told of these invisible multitudes who vote, fill rallies, and act as little whirl winds that spawn the activists and political windbags that concentrate power.

And what about the big transformers of the multitudes; like the global and local politicians and their aides who write the legislation and spend the money, and pull the strings on the little guys; the people who exploit and expand the myths as a move in a larger arena. What about the judges who interprets the interpreters of all the parties but who do not know a thing about what is going on. The bunch of them come through like a hurricane and set in motion huge concentrations of power and energy, and create structures that provide the context in which people and life self organize around to maximize power.


Barb Houren

As described by Westley, three types of inter-organizational collaborations can be classified by the individual or group which organizes it. The three types of collaborations are planning-led, vision-led, and learning-led. Each have the potential for success, while also having some characteristics for concern which are based on a comparison of fundamental tasks to be accomplished by a collaboration.

All but one of the cases under investigation this week seem to have followed more than one type of organization throughout their management history. The exception is the Coastal Scrub Sage projects in California. I state this because until this resource appeared in jeopardy there was no type of management. From the information provided in BioScience, this organization is an example of an attempt at learning-led. There are many groups involved in a general goal which is continually being further defined. It appears that due to the involvement of the government at multiple levels, the usual concern of minimal resources is not a problem although it is early in the partnership to draw many conclusions.

Two of the other cases have displayed a trend to move in the 80's from a planning-led organization to a learning-led organization. Both the NW. United States forests and Yellowstone have a history of quick definitions to their resource concerns without looking at various possible courses of action. These organizations were not well-adapted to look for or consider changes as time progressed, but since the mid- to late-80's both are exhibiting organizational changes led my multiple groups with varying interests which are assembling to consider these often conflicting interests and find multiple possible solutions.

The final case of interest is one we have discussed in detail, the Everglades. The history of this system has been characterized by all three types of organization at one time or another. The first of the four eras, Cut 'n try was an example of the planning-led organization. Although one individual was an important instigator, the characteristic of very limited issue definition with almost no data and concentration of the leader on political concerns rather than system concerns make this a planning-led organization. The second era of "turning green lines to red" continued with this same organizational mode. The resource base was already determined, and the narrowly defined problem led to one comprehensive water management plan which included the well-known water delivery regime. This led though to a change in organizational types from planning-led to learning-led. The No Easy Answers era involved resource managers, policy makers, and several interest groups in the difficult plan of determining management when all the obvious simple answers were gone and all that remained were the uneasy ones. The last era follows along with the learning characteristics, but it was definitely led by the vision of Art Marshall. The real thrust of this era came late in the work of Marshall though, and subsequently some of the concerns with the institutionalizing processes have not developed. Instead, if one follows Westley's table on pg. 410, it would appear that this era may be a combination of both vision-led and learning-led organization.


Jackie Wilson

I see the Everglades (EG) case as an example of the periodic bumps model.

The stability and revolution periods can be seen over a long time period. The first stable period can be seen before the EG was developed (before the turn of the century). When development began around the turn of the century, a 90 year revolution period started. This period was basically a time of treating symptoms, but not rectifying the real problem. The revolution period started when floods occurred in 1903 and a period of cutting canals through the EG began to try to alleviate the problem of flooding. Additional flooding led to more severe steps being taken in order to control flooding (designating specific land use, more canals and levees, and the control of water flow). This only resulted in severe droughts in 1960, 1970's and 1981. Then additional steps were taken to help end the drought conditions. Real change during this revolution period was avoided; each new management decisions was based on a short term solution to "fix" the imminent crisis. This period took a turn in 1986 when C. S. Holling created a model that described ecosystem dynamics. This lead to identifying uncertainty associated with new policy and trying to address these uncertainties with the new policies. Whether or not this new management plan will lead to an era of stability is still unknown. Hopefully the EG management can follow a pattern of regular process where there can be continual and regular improvements in the management without another 90 years period of consistent crisis.

I see the case given by Jerry Franklin as an example of oscillating shifts. Here major groups (the Gang of Four and Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team (FEMAT)) were interested in preserving the ecosystem in western North American (spotted owls, old-growth ecosystems, and anadronomous fish). These agencies, including the Scientific Analysis Team (SAT), were interested in preserving multi-species systems. The Gang of Four and FEMAT then independently went and created several alternative management plans (the divergence) which allowed decision makers to see the costs and benefits of each management plan. This allowed for a more efficient and confident management plan to be made (the convergence).

In the Yellowstone example I think different aspects of the park follow different models. First, the geothermal systems, the bison, and the bears all seem to follow the periodic bumps model. Before the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT) tapped into the LaDuke Hot Spring and dried it up, there was some stability in that system. This incident raised alarm flags, and a period of revolution, which is now coming back to a period of stability with tighter policies being made in several states to help preserve these systems. The bear and the bison both followed a stable period before they were almost hunted to extinction (which was the period of revolution). Then, both were protected (another stable period), but are now are again threatened due to human impacts. Measures are being taken to stop cutting forests in order to secure habitat for the bears as well as new management policies are still being made for the bison. Communication lines are being opened between ranchers and the scientific community in order to best manage the growing bison population (this will hopefully start another stable period). The mining and plant surveys aspects seem to follow more of the regular progress models. In both aspects it is realized that new steps need to be taken (to start surveying plants and stop mining proposals before they are instated) before a crisis arises. Hopefully the geothermal system, the bison and the bears aspects will now also follow the regular process model.

I believe the Southern Californian sage scrub case is an example of the regular process model. Sage scrub communities have been severely impacted by agriculture and urbanization; however, there is no real imminent danger of extinction for the sage scrub or its inhabitants. California is taking steps ahead of time to make sure that this does not occur. The Natural Community Conservation Planning Act is working with the state and federal government in order to take steps and create and carry out management policies across much urbanized land and land owned privately.


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Copyright Last modified: Feb 21 1996