Letter: A call for collaborative thinking
“The problems of today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that caused them.” — Albert Einstein
Real-world, complex natural resource and environmental challenges are facing us, the residents of Routt County. Some challenges are:
• Changing water quality and decreasing/increasing water production (quantity) from uplands, rivers and reservoirs
• Maintaining ranching and farming community viability amid changing land uses and management; landscape fragmentation; and effects of increasing temperatures and decreasing water availability on rangelands, forest and agricultural ecosystems
• Sustaining healthy and resilient ecosystems in Upper Yampa watersheds
• Effects of chemical changes in the atmosphere (e.g., deposition of nutrients and pollutants and increases CO2 concentrations)
• Wildfire mitigation and effects
• Loss of important plants and animals and increase of invasive species.
Some call these challenges “wicked problems,” and they are not partisan.
Wicked problems may have multiple and interacting causes that can produce uncertain, unexpected and often disruptive environmental and societal changes. They involve many poorly understood interactions within and among biological, physical, social, economic and political subsystems. Knowledge needed to address them is disbursed among many practitioners, experts, disciplines and institutions.
Wicked problems are societally complex and complicated and require collaboration among many stakeholders for evaluation and resolution. Resolving them may require changing the behaviors of individuals and groups of individuals.
For example, one specific challenge is the increasing incidence of algal blooms and possible toxic algae in western reservoirs, e.g., Stagecoach and Steamboat lakes. What factors contribute to these blooms? Is it increased nutrient concentrations? If so, sources may be upland and riparian management practices; atmospheric inputs; geologic contributions; decomposition of in-reservoir submerged vegetation and organic matter; recreation inputs; and wastewater sources.
But what if the causes are increased temperatures? Or maybe increased CO2 concentrations? Or maybe interactions of all of the above? Currently, science does not have definitive answers about causes or sources nor how they can be best managed. Collaborative analysis and research on public and private lands and waters are needed to resolve these questions.
Resolution of our challenges requires collective and inclusive science-based action of all stakeholders across property, management, jurisdictional and institutional boundaries because what one does or does not do in the watershed may well affect us all. Agreement on what the problems are and how to approach them is a needed collaboration. Science, history and experience, economics, politics or beliefs can’t resolve the problems in isolation.
Bob and Sarah Woodmansee
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