Monthly Archives: July 2012

Collaborative Adaptive Management in the Southwest

Since the 1970s, some natural resource practitioners and academics have argued that natural resource management should be collaborative and should be adaptable over time in the face of new information and changing environmental and social conditions. Collaborative adaptive management, or CAM, is a natural resource management approach in which a diverse group of stakeholders iteratively plan, implement, monitor, evaluate and adjust management actions to reduce uncertainty and improve decisions over time. While promising in theory, few examples of successful CAM have been identified in practice.

Photo credit: Bruce Chackerian

Jenna Kay (MCP ’12) looked at three relatively effective CAM efforts in the southwestern United States to find out what CAM looks like in practice and what is enabling these efforts to be successful over time. Specific tools, such as the use of a trained mediator and joint fact-finding, were introduced in the cases to address process deficiencies interfering with the group’s ability to collaborate or test management strategies. Factors such as effective long-term leadership, committed and enthusiastic participants, and strong organizational partnerships have also promoted the implementation of these programs.

More lessons from Jenna’s research in the field can be found in Jenna’s thesis.

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Using Community Meetings to Recruit Households into Home Energy Upgrades

Around 65 million homes in the USA could benefit from comprehensive upgrades to save energy. Serving these homes can decrease emissions, create jobs, stimulate local economies, and improve the health of indoor environments. However, marketing upgrades has proven difficult; households typically do not understand energy saving opportunities, are hesitant to take on financing to realize small net energy savings, and distrust programs and contractors.

Photo credit: PorterSIP (cgulyas2002)

Faced with these challenges, many upgrade program administrators have experimented with marketing upgrades via different community networks, such as neighborhood associations, churches, civil society organizations, common employers, or informal acquaintances. In his Masters thesis, Brendan McEwen (MCP 2012) explores the community based outreach strategies that can realize greater participation in upgrade programs. Brendan’s research suggests that hosting meetings that bring together a group of recruits, past participants, upgrade contractors, and program personnel, is an effective marketing mechanism, capable of providing a rich introduction to the concept of upgrades and fostering a sort of “peer pressure” to sign on for a home energy assessment. Brendan suggests program administrators should tap many different community networks, to recruit households into such meetings. More strategies and lessons from the field can be found in Brendan’s thesis.

Do Planners Have A Role in Wildfire?

Yes! Maybe it’s not strapping on heavy gear and dragging hose, but Molly Mowery (MCP 2008) argues that planners play an important role in shaping policies that reduce catastrophic wildfire incidents. Since writing her DUSP thesis on wildfire and development, Molly has been advocating for stronger links between planning decisions and wildfire risk. You can see her latest thoughts on this topic in this New York Times Room for Debate thread, “Does the Government Cause or Prevent Wildfires?”

In Molly’s 2008 thesis, she claims that traditional roles dictate that the wildfire problem is someone else’s responsibility – namely, fire and emergency services. Yet planners and community leaders who sanction development decisions in wildfire-prone areas can and must ensure communities have taken measures to reduce their wildfire risk. With the recent home losses throughout the West, this issue is more timely than ever.

Photo credit: Molly Mowery

If planners DO allow development to occur in wildfire-prone areas (which, by the way, includes over 70,000 communities throughout the United States), they have a toolkit of options. These options reduce the likelihood of damage when a fire does occur, and include: overlay zoning districts that identify high-risk areas, development and design standards, subdivision ordinances, and comprehensive planning policies. Through such tools, planners can require vegetation maintenance surrounding a property, fire-resistant building and construction materials, adequate water supply, and access and driveway clearance. Incorporating standards into the development process before development occurs is more cost effective than retrofits. More importantly, proactive planning makes the job of the firefighter easier, and increases the likelihood that homes, businesses, and lives will be safe during a wildfire event.

Learn more about effective regulations to reduce wildfire risk at www.nfpa.org/regulatorytools and general wildfire risk reduction programs by visiting the Fire Adapted Communities website: www.fireadapted.org

Do Renters Miss Out on the Benefits of Energy Efficiency?

Increasing energy efficiency is a popular notion. It garners support from environmentalists to economists to every person who pays a utility bill. But when it comes to retrofits, more homeowners are benefiting from energy efficiency than renters. Patrick Coleman (MCP 2011) thinks this a problem worth looking into.

To do this, Patrick analyzed local city ordinances that aim to enhance the energy efficiency of rental properties in California, Wisconsin, Vermont, and Texas. He found that the barriers to energy efficiency improvements are significant, but the potential in rental housing looms large. The lack of information, fragmentation of housing and energy markets, and misaligned incentives, however, challenge retrofits. Also, the diversity of property owners, from individuals to multinational corporations, presents policymakers and program administrators with varied motivations and interests and makes coordination of resources extremely difficult.

Despite this, Coleman found that well-designed ordinances can 1) establish a minimum standard of energy efficiency in rental properties, 2) enable energy efficiency program administrators to focus their attention beyond basic measures to deeper retrofits, and 3) facilitate the valuation of energy efficiency in housing markets.

Coleman recommends partnerships between local governments, community-based organizations, and utility companies to motivate better energy efficiency in rental units. You can read more by checking out Patrick’s thesis.