The role of collaboration in everglades restoration
Frank, Kathryn Irene
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This dissertation examined the impacts of multiple collaborative planning and implementation processes on ecosystem management of the Everglades wetlands of South Florida. In particular, the research focused on collaboration's role in (1) reducing phosphorus pollution in runoff from the Everglades Agricultural Area in the historic northern Everglades and (2) improving the water flow regime in Shark Slough of the southern Everglades. Restoration of the greater Everglades watershed is the largest such initiative in the world, and it may also be the most collaborative, with scores of these processes used at various scales since the mid-1960s. Ecosystem management is the most advanced approach to environmental governance, and its three tenets of integrative, adaptive, and ecologically protective governance provide a framework for evaluating environmental planning processes. Proponents of collaborative processes believe they are exceptionally suited to promoting the tenets of ecosystem management. Critics of collaboration, however, are concerned with the potential for cooptation of environmental interests, among other issues. Using qualitative case study methodology, the research found that collaborative processes improved ecosystem management, but not to the degree expected by collaboration proponents. Collaborative processes were integrative of values, information, activities, and political support across the ecosystem, yet integration had biases and limits as a result of groups' strategic behaviors and processes' emphasis on reaching agreement rather than fully exploring the issues. Cooptation of environmental interests was not a significant problem. Collaborative processes promoted adaptation and social learning in specific cases, but at a macro level helped to maintain the status quo of the dominant water management agencies and technocratic paradigms. Process outcomes were protective of ecological health in that they made steady, incremental progress towards ecological restoration. Progress had significant setbacks however, because collaboratively developed policies were subject to capture by economic interests. Despite the collaborative improvements in ecosystem management, ecological health remains a distant and uncertain prospect for the Everglades.