CWPPRA Provides Lessons for Applying Adaptive Management Across Louisiana’s Coast

12.22.2020 | In Coastal Restoration
By Jarryd Page, Public Interest Law Fellow, Environmental Law Institute (ELI)

Adaptive management has become an important tool for natural resource managers tasked with running complex systems in the face of growing uncertainty. It relies on a framework that continually updates management decisions based on the ongoing monitoring of data. This framework can apply to a variety of projects, including those designed to protect and restore coastal habitat.

Louisiana’s massive coastal restoration efforts are a classic example of an elaborate and ever-changing landscape that calls for such an approach. For example, applying adaptive management to an oyster restoration project might involve monitoring how well oysters are responding to current management decisions, then using that oyster data to implement changes that will better achieve overall project goals.

Photo Credit: Jared Serigne

Photo Credit: Jared Serigne

A new Environmental Law Institute case study, authored by former ELI public interest law fellow Stephanie Oehler, examines how project selection and implementation under the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) utilize adaptive management. Based on extensive research and interviews, the case study offers detailed analysis of CWPPRA’s governance structure, how projects are selected and funded, what monitoring looks like, and the governance of individual projects. It concludes that CWPRRA has primarily succeeded in incorporating adaptive management principles at both programmatic and project-specific levels, but it notes that there are opportunities to strengthen the adaptive management framework, and thus increase the effectiveness of ongoing and future restoration planning.

Coastal Louisiana’s restoration efforts already incorporate many essential elements of adaptive management. These include setting clear goals, maintaining a robust monitoring network, providing opportunities for public participation, and following a cooperative interagency governance structure.

Specifically, the Coastwide Reference Monitoring System (CRMS) and Barrier Island Comprehensive Monitoring (BICM) program regularly collect data at hundreds of sites along the coast to help gauge the effectiveness of CWPPRA restoration projects individually and overall. The complex nature of coastal restoration is reflected in CWPPRA’s structure, led by a Task Force that incorporates a diverse range of expertise from five federal agencies and Louisiana’s Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority.

The ELI study identifies lessons learned from CWPRRA’s use of adaptive management and makes suggestions for improvements moving forward, with recommendations at both the program level and project level. Some of the key takeaways at the program level are:

The study also proposes ways to strengthen CWPPRA’s application of adaptive management to specific restoration projects, including:

You can download the CWPPRA case study here. For more on the Environmental Law Institute’s work to advance coastal restoration in Louisiana and other Gulf states, please visit their website or reach out to ELI’s Gulf Team at