Masters Thesis

Managing land for Resilience: a comparative analysis of Conservation Planning and Holistic Management®

In a time of change and dwindling resources, how decisions are made for managing private lands is critical for the future resilience of ecosystems. Theories in ecology and natural resource sciences are moving away from a past emphasis on steady-state equilibrium toward embracing dynamic change. A newly applied and pragmatic paradigm informed by resilience theory integrates ecological and social sciences in a systems approach to long-term sustainability based on flexibility and adaptation to change. As the science evolves, new understandings can be applied in natural resource management. This research explores the degree to which resilience theory is being incorporated into two prominent decision-making frameworks for private land management: the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Planning framework and Allan Savory’s Holistic Management® framework. I began by conducting a document analysis to compare and contrast Conservation Planning and Holistic Management® as they are described in the literature. Next, I analyzed the two frameworks for evidence that they incorporate three applied tenets of resilience theory: managing whole systems, managing for change, and managing for diversity. To ground my research I conducted nine semi-structured interviews in two California counties: San Luis Obispo and Humboldt. I interviewed ranchers, NRCS planners, and Holistic Management® instructors to gain insight into how the frameworks are implemented on the ground. I found that the frameworks are altogether different in how they approach land management. The Conservation Planning framework incorporates key sustainability-oriented, land management ideas and practices like philosophical understandings of whole systems and diversity management, and practices addressing managing for change and diversity like erosion control and non-indigenous plant control. However, Holistic Management® more thoroughly addresses whole systems, managing for change and diversity, and thus aligns more clearly with current ideas of resilience and how to achieve long-term sustainability.