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Efficient and resilient governance of social–ecological systems


New institutions are critically needed to improve the resilience of social–ecological systems globally. Watershed management offers an important model due to its ability to govern mixed-ownership landscapes through common property regimes, translating national goals into local action. Here, I assess the efficacy of state watershed management institutions in the Pacific Northwest, based on their ability to support local watershed groups. I use document analysis to describe and compare state institutions in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California. Results indicate that state institutional efficiency and resilience are the key factors determining watershed group activity and stability. The primary drivers of institutional efficiency and resilience were institutional unification, robust funding portfolios, low agency conflict, and strong support for economic multiplier effects, creative partnerships, and scholarly research. My findings elucidate the critical role of institutional efficiency and resilience in governing dynamic and complex social–ecological systems, enabling the flexibility to address emergent transformations.

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I would like to thank Michael Hibbard and Max Nielsen-Pincus for their guidance and enthusiasm for watershed management. I would also like to thank Daniel Gavin and Joshua Roering for their insights on long-term physical processes important to watershed functioning.

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Correspondence to Adam Erickson.

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Erickson, A. Efficient and resilient governance of social–ecological systems. Ambio 44, 343–352 (2015).

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  • Adaptive co-management
  • Biodiversity
  • Governance
  • Resilience
  • Social–ecological systems
  • Watershed management