nonlinear. A multijurisdiction planning approach
is needed for conservation of migrating species.
Each problem requires careful analysis to identify
the main sources of wickedness and the approaches
that might be appropriate for incremental solutions.
From a governance perspective, policy-makers
can approach these problems in ecosystem management through mechanisms that promote institutional “fit” or “interplay.” Institutional fit aligns
institutions to spatial, temporal, and functional
scales of different parts of an integrated system,
such as river basin commissions that encompass
multiple jurisdictions to cover a watershed (58).
Institutional fit is challenged by the reality that
an appropriate spatial fit for one problem, such
as water, may lead to spatial misfits with other
associated problems, such as wildlife movements
(59). Conversely, policies can promote institutional
interplay to include multiple institutions, each
with their own legacies and cultures of operation, and accept the associated messiness (60).
Institutional interplay, such as national-level land-use planning with multiple sectors, requires policies
that shift institutional interactions biased toward
dominance, separation, and merger toward negotiated agreements and systemic change (61). Both
institutional fit and interplay are likely to be messy.
Decisions about which approach is more effective
and tractable depend on the context.
There is no single or best solution to wicked
problems in ecosystem management. Two types
of traps can curtail incremental, partial improvements. First, there is a risk of oversimplifying a
problem and assuming that a technical solution
will fix a wicked problem (trap A). For example,
approaches to provide food security run this risk.
In the 20th century, fertilizer, irrigation, and plant
breeding vastly increased the amount of food pro-
duction, reduced the cost of food, and alleviated
famine. However, the explosive increase in produc-
tion also had unintended consequences, including
underpinning the current rise in obesity, reducing
the nutritional content of cereals (62), creating in-
equities in access to food, and causing environmen-
tal problems such as soil degradation, fertilizer
runoff, and greenhouse gas emissions. A continued
sole focus on technical solutions to produce more
food would overlook the myriad social, economic,
and environmental dimensions of the problem.
Conversely, there is a risk of making a problem
overly complex (trap B). Managers trained in
technical problem-solving can be ill-equipped to
confront complex social processes. The result can
be inaction from the inability to identify an incremental, partial solution. The long-standing
problem of balancing needs of local people with
conservation in and around protected areas risks
falling into a trap of inaction (56).
A middle ground between the two traps can be
found by using the principles of adaptive management (Fig. 1). To complement an adaptive
approach, analysis of a problem in ecosystem
management, whether it is tame or wicked, and
the primary reasons for the wickedness (if applicable) can help identify an initial, tractable institutional or technical intervention, whose outcome
can be readily tracked. Analysis that considers divergent stakeholders and possible unintended consequences from the outset can help to avoid trap
A. An initial experimental intervention, including
monitoring and reassessment, helps to avoid trap
B and find solutions appropriate for the context
(63). Successive interventions are based on a more
complete understanding of the problem, reasons
for wickedness, and realistic institutional possibilities for interventions.
Efforts to protect habitat for species whose
ranges transcend boundaries of protected areas,
such as the decades-long Yellowstone to Yukon
(Y2Y) Conservation Initiative in North America,
are one illustration of how this process could work
(Fig. 2). Y2Y was founded in the early 1990s to
promote conservation of large carnivores over an
area of 120 million hectares, encompassing three
U.S. states, four Canadian provinces, and many
jurisdictions of Canadian and U.S. land manage-
ment agencies, Canadian First Nations territories,
and U.S. Native American tribal lands. The con-
temporary history of the area includes agricul-
ture and resource extraction. Initially, Y2Y was
a loose network of conservation organizations and
individuals that advocated land-use change con-
ducive to large carnivore conservation through a
science-driven plan. The initial effort encountered
difficulties in implementing this vision because
of conflicts over property rights and divergent
values from those of local communities and indus-
try. Y2Y then reshaped its vision to harmonize
“the needs of people with those of nature” and
adopted governance structures to enhance parti-
cipation by local partners (64). The consortium has
enabled wildlife crossings and protected status
for land throughout the corridor (65). These govern-
ance strategies could evolve further, with the
role of local partners moving from participation
toward coproduction of governance strategies.
Explicit recognition of the underlying reasons
that a wicked problem occurs in a particular geographic, institutional, and cultural setting could
help identify incremental interventions that avoid
either oversimplifying a problem or inaction from
overwhelming complexity. Analyses of empirical
case studies, identification of possible incremental solutions, and context-appropriate, tractable
metrics to assess progress are all needed to address understudied wicked problems in ecosystem
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of reasons for
How to provide
habitat for large
PAs: Is problem
tame or wicked?
Mismatch in ecological and
covering mutiple jurisdictions;
multiple sectors (mines, timber,
local communities) use corridors;
divergent values of stakeholders
(conserve vs. extract resources)
Lack of policy
change; lack of
and extractive sector
Fig. 2. Flowchart for managing an example wicked problem. This example illustrates the wicked problem of providing habitat for large carnivores
outside protected areas (PAs) through efforts such as the Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) Conservation Initiative (42).