Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (NCA) and the surrounding Sonoita Valley Acquisition Planning District are situated in southeastern Pima County and northeastern Santa Cruz County, Arizona within an hour drive of the rapidly growing Tucson metropolitan area. Together these lands encompass much of the upper Cienega Creek watershed, which is important to Tucson for flood control and aquifer recharge. The NCA and Planning District's 96,000 acres support many significant resources including five of the rarest habitat types in the American Southwest: cienegas, cottonwood-willow riparian areas, sacaton grasslands, mesquite bosques, and semidesert grasslands; habitat for several threatened and endangered species; a site on the National Register of Historic Places; and two proposed wild and scenic river segments. The NCA and Planning District were designated by Congress in order to conserve, protect, and enhance their nationally important resources while allowing livestock grazing and recreation to continue in appropriate areas.
The Bureau of Land Management completed a Resource Management Plan for public lands within Las Cienegas NCA and the Sonoita Valley Acquisition Planning District in 2003. The Plan prescribes an adaptive management approach for these lands and resources. The adaptive management process is a formal, systematic, and rigorous approach to learning from the outcomes of management actions, accommodating change and improving management. The process involves synthesizing existing knowledge, exploring alternative actions and making explicit forecasts about their outcomes. Management actions and monitoring programs are carefully designed to generate reliable feedback and clarify the reasons underlying outcomes. Actions and objectives are then adjusted based on this feedback and improved understanding. In addition, decisions, actions and outcomes are carefully documented and communicated to others, so that knowledge gained through experience is passed on, rather than being lost when individuals move or leave the organization. As BLM obtains new information, it will evaluate monitoring data and other resource information to periodically refine and update desired conditions and management strategies. This allows for the continual refinement and improvement of management prescriptions and practices in the Plan.
The Department of Interior definition of Adaptive Management - Adaptive Management is a decision process that promotes flexible decision making that can be adjusted in the face of uncertainties as outcomes from management actions and other events become better understood. Careful monitoring of these outcomes both advances scientific understanding and helps adjust policies or operations as part of an iterative learning process. Adaptive management also recognizes the importance of natural variability in contributing to ecological resilience and productivity. It is not a ‘trial and error’ process, but rather emphasizes learning while doing. Adaptive management does not represent an end in itself, but rather a means to more effective decisions and enhanced benefits. Its true measure is in how well it helps meet environmental, social, and economic goals; increases scientific knowledge; and reduces tensions among stakeholders.