Adaptation and water resources management: examining adaptive governance in Montana

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


A pressing challenge facing water resource users and managers of the twenty-first century is how to address resource needs under the complexities of climate change, growth and development, habitat degradation, and more. Under these pressures, scholars and practitioners look to adaptive frameworks to increase the resilience of communities and ecosystems. Popular adaptive approaches to natural resource management include adaptive management, adaptive co-management, and adaptive governance. In this thesis, we examine adaptive governance in Montana, USA. Adaptive governance is commonly conceptualized as the multitude of actors, organizations, and institutions that utilize information sharing, collaboration, and flexible policies to promote resilient social-ecological systems. Although there has been a substantial increase in scholarship examining adaptive governance and related adaptation terms in the last forty years, scholars have yet to distinguish them from one another clearly. Further, there has been little research on adaptive governance conducted in the headwaters State of Montana. This thesis is an attempt to reduce these gaps in the literature. First, I review the command-and-control paradigm, decentralized approaches to natural resource management, adaptive management, and adaptive co-management. These concepts provide important background for examining the saliency of adaptive governance and separating it from related terminology. Then, we examine adaptive governance in Montana using semi-structured interviews (n=36), a round one survey (n=79), and a round two survey (n=42). Our findings show that water resource professionals and stewards working with non-governmental and governmental entities in Montana embrace collaboration, diverse viewpoints, information sharing, and local knowledge in their work, all of which are described as necessary for adaptive governance. However, we find that this water resource stewardship and protection work is sometimes stalled or derailed by a lack of government support and shifting administrations. Our findings lead us to assert the importance of governmental support in adaptive governance and propose a definition to re-frame the concept for future scholars and practitioners.




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