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SOCIAL-ECOLOGICAL RESILIENCE AND LAW IN THE PLATTE RIVER BASIN
Birge, H., C. Allen, R. Craig, A. Garmestani, J. Hamm, C. Babbitt, K. Nemec, AND E. Schlager. SOCIAL-ECOLOGICAL RESILIENCE AND LAW IN THE PLATTE RIVER BASIN. Idaho Law Review. University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, 51(1):229, (2014).
Efficiency and resistance to rapid change are hallmarks of both the judicial and legislative branches of the United States government –although, of the two, courts have greater ability to adapt to changing circumstances through, for example, the evolution of federal common law and interpretation of federal statutes and regulations. Similarly, federal administrative agencies have some level of adaptive capacity through rulemaking, in adjudications (including permit conditions), and by exercising administrative discretion. Legislation from Congress, in contrast, is designed to be lasting, stable, and resistant to change, establishing order and bracing society against shocks and rapid changes. From this perspective, environmental statutes must be written to exist for operational perpetuity . However, as our understanding of ecosystems improves, the current judicial system lacks the flexibility to account for the non-linearities and uncertainties that we now know to be rife in natural environmental systems . The efficacy of past and natural resources management legislation is indeed limited by an older, more rigid interpretation of ecosystems that fails to capture the true nature of ecosystems.
Efficiency and resistance to rapid change are hallmarks of both the judicial and legislative branches of the United States government. These defining characteristics, while bringing stability and predictability, pose challenges when it comes to managing dynamic natural systems. As our understanding of ecosystems improves, we must devise ways to account for the nonlinearities and uncertainties rife in complex social-ecological systems. This paper takes an in-depth look at the Platte River basin over time to explore how the system’s resilience—the capacity to absorb disturbance without losing defining structures and functions—responds to human driven change. Beginning with pre-European settlement, the paper explores how water laws, policies, and infrastructure influenced the region’s ecology and society. While much of the post-European development in the Platte River basin came at a high ecological cost to the system, the recent tri-state and federal collaborative Platte River Recovery and Implementation Program is a first step towards flexible and adaptive management of the social-ecological system. Using the Platte River basin as an example, we make the case that inherent flexibility and adaptability are vital for the next iteration of natural resources management policies affecting stressed basins. We argue that this can be accomplished by nesting policy in a resilience framework, which we describe and attempt to operationalize for use across systems and at different levels of jurisdiction. As our current natural resources policies fail under the weight of looming global change, unprecedented demand for natural resources, and shifting land use, the need for a new generation of adaptive, flexible natural resources governance emerges. Here we offer a prescription for just that, rooted in the social, ecological and political realities of the Platte River basin.