Rural System: A Synergistic New Approach to Adaptive Management

New relationships are defined by the unknown, and in a complex new relationship harmony is served best when all parties are listening closely. Ecosystems are some of the most complex networks of interaction, calling for keen responsiveness on the part of the people who manage them. In the face of such complexity and uncertainty, adaptive management (A.M.) has become the approach of choice for many land managers.


The Department of the Interior defines an A.M. approach as one that is, “not a ‘trial and error’ process, but rather emphasizes learning while doing.” Discrete scientific studies cannot respond to ecological processes quickly enough, so A.M. calls for continuous monitoring of ecosystems to evaluate the effectiveness of management decisions. A.M. is implemented differently across projects with varied success. You can explore case studies of A.M. here. A common feature is that these projects only evaluate their effectiveness every few months or years.

Rural System, Inc. intends to optimize the A.M. process, with the help of GIS and prescriptive software, as an innovative approach not only to environmental conservation, but also to profitable, sustained land use.

Land under Rural System management would be sampled intensively, generating data on the land’s unique water, soil, flora, fauna, and topography. This data, accompanied by data available from existing databases, would be entered into a GIS map of the property to provide a visual representation of land conditions. Information from the GIS attribute tables would also feed directly into prescriptive software to produce optimized management recommendations. SoilSmartRx is an example of prescriptive software, developed by Rural System, Inc. Prescriptive software closes a gap between information obtained and decisions made, thus cutting down on response time to changes on managed land. For the first time, we have the possibility for a land management approach as dynamic and integrated as the biological systems it monitors.

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About Laurel Sindewald

Laurel is an alumna of Warren Wilson College with a BS in Conservation Biology and a BA in Philosophy. She is a writer for Rural System, Inc.

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