Las Ciénegas Adaptive Management

We are collaborating with the Bureau of Land Management to combine a strong monitoring & data analysis program with BLM’s decision-making processes to ensure managers at Las Ciénegas National Conservation Area have current and reliable information to inform management actions.

Photo Credit: Gita Bodner/TNC

Why is Las Ciénegas NCA important?

Las Ciénegas National Conservation Area is located in southeastern Arizona

Las Ciénegas NCA supports 5 of the rarest habitat types in the American Southwest: cottonwood-willow riparian forest, ciénega marshland, sacaton grass floodplain, mesquite bosque, and semidesert grassland. It is home to 6 endangered species and has 2 eligible wild and scenic river segments. The NCA’s intact grassland, stream, riparian, and marsh habitat are the best remaining examples of ecosystems that were historically more common in southeastern Arizona. The NCA also supports a livestock grazing operation.

Located in southeastern Arizona, the 45,000-acre National Conservation Area is part of BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System.

The State of Las Ciénegas NCA

The Nature Conservancy began working with BLM at Las Ciénegas in 2004 to develop a “State of the NCA” report. To prepare the report we analyzed existing data and monitoring protocols for the NCA’s grasslands and watershed, riparian forest, aquatic habitat, and select special status species. We also tested and recommended alternative monitoring protocols to improve BLM’s ability to detect change without increasing the cost of monitoring. An additional report describes BLM’s Biological Planning Process. It illustrates how BLM, with input from the grazing permittee and advisory teams, is using monitoring data to make grazing management decisions.

What is adaptive management?

Providing timely information on natural resources

Adaptive management is designed to take the guess work out of the management of our natural resources. A science-based adaptive management and monitoring program provides decision-makers with reliable and timely information on the condition and trend of resources. Combined with research studies, adaptive management helps us understand why ecosystem conditions or species’ populations change.

Combining scientific monitoring with decision making

Adaptive management is more than science, however. If a land manager’s decision-making processes and timeframes are not explicit, or data are not analyzed in a timely manner, decision-making and the state of our resources are likely to suffer. Adaptive management is really a process of coupling effective scientific monitoring with decision-making.

Applying adaptive management at Las Ciénegas

At Las Ciénegas, BLM has been working with resource advisory teams to

  • implement a focused and effective monitoring program
  • coordinate and review monitoring results, and
  • ensure that the science and review steps are completed in a timely manner to facilitate BLM decisions on management activities.

Management steps at Las Ciénegas

At Las Ciénegas, BLM is continually implementing the 6 primary steps in adaptive management

  1. Identification of management goals and measurable thresholds in resource condition.
  2. Development of a monitoring protocol with adequate sampling effort to detect biologically meaningful change in resource condition over a specified time period and an optimal frequency and timeframe during which monitoring should be conducted.
  3. Consistent implementation of the monitoring protocol and analysis of data.
  4. Timely review of data against established goals and thresholds to determine the need for changes in management.
  5. Implementation of needed management changes (and continued monitoring).
  6. Implementation of follow-up scientific studies to fill identified information gaps.