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National and Midwest CASC scientists co-authored a study that showcases how the RAD framework can enhance management coordination across spatial scales, allowing local innovation and regional vision in the Upper Mississippi River.

The Upper Mississippi River Basin, stretching from Minneapolis-St. Paul to the Ohio River, comprises three distinct management sections. Managing expansive river systems like the Upper Mississippi is a challenge due to their size, connectivity, dynamic nature, multiple uses like recreation or energy, and interacting threats. Rivers also often serve as jurisdictional boundaries, adding a layer of complexity when coordinating management efforts.  

Enter the Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD) framework, a strategic management approach that offers a trio of choices: “resisting,” “accepting,” or “directing” change. In a study co-authored by National and Midwest CASC scientists Abigail Lynch, Holly Embke, Owen McKenna, Laura Thompson and partners, the RAD framework is applied in a hierarchical approach to address some of the challenges of managing large river systems.  

The hierarchical approach in the paper spans three spatial scales, linking: 

  1. Basin goals that are the foundation for unified river governance, offering stability and guidance for smaller-scale decisions. These goals represent the desired outcomes for social-economic functions and services and provide a shared vision among stakeholders. 

  1. Reach objectives that bridge basin goals and site actions by specifying desired outcomes for different aspects of the ecosystem (e.g., habitat diversity). These objectives inform the choice of RAD approaches that are likely to be effective, feasible, and socially approved.  

  1. Site actions at the local scale are implemented to achieve reach objectives and basin goals. While working towards specific outcomes, these actions also offer space for experimentation, innovation, and periodic reevaluation of higher-level objectives. 

Putting these levels into context, the researchers considered how shifting precipitation could impact management on the Upper Mississippi River. With more frequent and extreme flooding events expected in the future, a basin-scale goal could be to “resist” the loss of ecological integrity and to “direct” new economic uses – an overarching goal that sets the stage for specific objectives within different reaches.  

Notably, RAD choices are not mutually exclusive, providing the flexibility to tailor strategies according to specific goals and locations across large river systems. This flexibility means that different management objectives can include “resisting” in one area and “directing” in another. For instance, in the upper level of the basin, where ecosystems face increased sedimentation and inundation risks that could lead to the conversion of forests into marshland, one reach-specific objective might be to “resist” a loss of habitat diversity. An actionable site-level response could be to increase forest management practices.  

In a different section of the river further south, increased flooding will cause more frequent levee failures that could lead to the conversion of agricultural land into floodplains. In this section, one reach-scale objective might be to “direct” change by diversifying agricultural uses. A site action might involve initiating levee setbacks which would allow higher floodplain water storage during floods. 

RAD allows site-scale flexibility and large-scale stability while ensuring that all potential management options are considered. The researchers envision this approach can help facilitate coordination and align decision-making across multiple levels of governance and spatial scales. 

The full citation for this publication: 

Ward, N.K., Lynch, A.J., Beever, E.A., Booker, J., Bouska K.L., Embke, H., Houser, J.N., Kocik, J.F., Kocik, J., Lawrence, D.J., Lemon, M.G., Limpinsel, D., Magee, M.R., Maitland, B.M., McKenna, O., Meier, A., Morton, J.M., Muehlbauer, J.D., Newman, R., Oliver, D.C., Rantala, H.M., Sass, G.G., Shultz, A., Thompson, L.M., & Wilkening, J.L. Reimaging large river management using the Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD) framework in the Upper Mississippi River. Ecological Processes 12, 48 (2023). 

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