Management of rangelands, and natural resources in general has become increasingly complex. There is an atmosphere of increasing expectations for conservation efforts associated with a variety of issues from water quality to endangered species. We argue that many current issues are complex by their nature, which influences how we approach them. We define a complex problem as one which varies in time and space. In other words, one answer may not be correct for all sites or during all years. For simple problems a generalized answer may be sufficient, and even for complex problems, general rules provide a good starting point. However, we suggest that it is important to distinguish between simple and complex problems. Several key obstacles emerge when considering complex natural resource problems, namely: 1) no single entity can handle all aspects of the problem, and 2) significant knowledge gaps exist and will continue to exist into the future. We suggest that overcoming these obstacles will benefit from: 1) a framework for effective partnerships, and 2) a mechanism for continuous learning. Managing complex problems will require some combination of the following: 1) a process-based understanding of the problem (i.e., what causes variation in time and space), 2) adaptive management, and 3) effective coordination of research and management. There are many examples of organizations applying portions of these approaches to complex problems, however, it seems that in many cases the process has simply evolved in that direction rather than being a planned strategy. We suggest that as a profession we need to have a discussion about the nature of the problems we are addressing and how researchers and managers can jointly address these problems.
Managing complex problems in rangeland ecosystems