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Development of a protocol for the
definition of the desired state of
riverine systems in South Africa

K Rogers & R Bestbier.


Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. Pretoria

ISBN 0-621-27824-6

Executive Summary


A major strategy of the Kruger National Parks Rivers Research Programme (KNPRRP) has been to develop a consultative management process in which interactions between stakeholders, managers and researchers are facilitated by a Decision Support System (DSS). The management process consists of three subsets of activities:

  1. An Operational Framework for setting and evaluating attainable and acceptable goals.
  2. A Predictive Modelling Framework for prediction of the consequences of management actions and of system change in general.
  3. A System Response Framework for monitoring natural disturbance/change and system response to management actions.

The DSS is essentially a toolbox for servicing the interactive management process and is the technological interface between management and research. As originally envisaged the Operational Framework consisted of four processes:

  1. A description of the future state in which conservation managers wish to see the rivers ("desired state").
  2. A process by which the "desired state" was translated into operational goals.
  3. The selection of a range of management options which might achieve these goals.
  4. An evaluation of the consequences of this range of actions in order to select the most appropriate and cost effective for implementation.

To be compatible with the management process any statement of the "desired state" has to be;

  1. explicitly translatable into operational goals, which are achievable within the management resource constraints,
  2. compatible with the predictive potential in the programme, and
  3. auditable within the Response Framework.

It would serve little purpose to set a "desired state" in detail so fine that it could not be predicted and was too costly to achieve, monitor and audit. Furthermore, it was essential that the managers themselves were instrumental in deciding the future state of the rivers for which they were responsible.

The concept of "desired state" as a foundation for this project

The concept of a "desired state" (also referred to as "desired future state", or "desired future conditions") has had many independent origins all over the world and is generally used to indicate the need for some foresight and commitment from policy makers and managers as to the condition in which an ecological system should be maintained. As such, the terms are used as euphemisms for operational goals.

To some the "desired state" may be represented by scientifically identified end points, while to others it may be represented by human values. Without an adequate operational definition of the desired endpoint, effective management is unlikely and without broad consensus on that definition, acceptance within wider value systems is equally unlikely

The integration of indicators, end points and value systems forms the cornerstone of this project which had the brief to provide:

  1. A protocol for the definition of the "desired state" for the rivers of the Kruger National Park.
  2. A definition of the "desired state" for the Sable River in the Kruger National Park
  3. An evaluation of the usefulness of the protocol for application to other South African rivers and recommendations for such application

The Kruger National Park context

Over the last two years an exciting synergy has developed. Management of the Kruger Park was under considerable pressure from animal rights groups and the press over the issues of culling elephant. This, and other factors, prompted a rethink of the management plan. As the procedure and philosophy developed in this project, it meshed with the changing circumstances in the Park and management adopted the process to redefine management for the whole Park. By implementing the procedure early in its genesis, management was highly influential in this project's maturation. The final product presented in this report owes much to this synergy.

A theoretical context and its implications for this project

Both the practice of conservation and the science of ecology are undergoing major paradigm shifts which could not be ignored in this study. At the same time South African society is also undergoing radical change toward a more democratic dispensation. The changes in conservation, ecology and societal decision-making and their interdependence have many implications for this study.

Conservation practice, especially in statutory organisations, is strongly influenced by three complex sets of interacting driving forces:

  1. The governance system of the country which determines the way in which society reaches decisions on environmental issues.
  2. The operational interpretation, by the responsible institution, of the mandate provided by government policy.
  3. The scientific paradigm adopted by conservation practitioners and the degree to which the paradigm represents reality strongly influence conservation.

The failure of the "balance-of-nature" paradigm to explain nature's workings and serve conservation has left many conservationists sceptical of the value of theory to practice. The alternative "flux-of-nature" perspective has intuitive appeal but daunting practical consequences. Nevertheless the goal of conservation management is shiffing from managing species for their intrinsic value, to managing them for their interactive roles in ecosystem functioning, and for their role in promoting heterogeneity in system structure, composition and functioning, in time and space. Managing for spatial and temporal heterogeneity will require unprecedented courage. With society demanding transparency and accountability, a purely custodial, wait-and-see, approach to adaptive management must give way to a more auditable goal-orientated, strategic approach. Conservation must adapt from being reactive to surprise events of nature, to being pro-active in providing accountable, strategic management which incorporates societal value systems. Adopting such a management style will require something of a revolution in both thinking and modus operandi. There was, therefore, the need to develop a general protocol to assist in generating goals, incorporating value systems and engendering a strategic management style.

Goal setting protocol and procedure

The basis of the protocol and procedure was developed in an initial workshop with interested managers and academics but was further developed by application to the Kruger National Park (KNP) and Nylsvley Nature Reserve management scenarios.

The protocol developed by this study:

  1. Leads to an Objectives Hierarchy which can service (a) an institutional hierarchy, and (b) the KNPRRP decision support system, with acceptable and achievable operational goals (end points) which map out a credible future for the river ecosystems.
  2. Provides a Goal Maintenance System which (a) ensures that once acceptable goals have been set they are met, revised, audited and, when necessary, reintegrated into the management process and (b) provides "institutional memory".
  3. Utilizes a hierarchical patch dynamics model of biodiversity to generate the Objectives Hierarchy, indicators and goals/endpoints to ensure an ecosystem approach to management.
  4. Provides processes for integrating goals in a multi-party management system as would be required for Integrated Catchment Management for example.

The procedure for implementing the protocol to develop an Objectives Hierarchy emphasises an inclusive, negotiating style to ensure:

  1. Transparency and consensus in the development of the Objectives Hierarchy.
  2. The inclusion of the value systems of appropriate intra- and inter-institutional parties.
  3. Enthusiastic acceptance by management of new goals and modus operandi

The Objectives Hierarchy

The first protocol is for developing an Objectives Hierarchy. The hierarchy begins at the coarsest level with the organisation's "vision', for management. The protocol provides a step-by-step process for decomposing the vision into a series of "objectives" of increasing focus, rigour and achievability. The finest level of the hierarchy is defined by achievable goals which may be either "institutional goals" or "conservation goals". Institutional goals define achievable targets for managing institutional structures and processes. Conservation goals define endpoints for ecosystem management. The higher level vision and objectives serve upper management levels with statements of strategic intent, while the low level goals provide on-the-ground managers with specific, spatially and temporally bounded, targets. These targets are termed Thresholds of Potential Concern and act as amber fights to warn managers of possible unacceptable environmental change.

The Goal Maintenance System

The second protocol, the Goal Maintenance Systm provides an iterative internal auditing system to promote interaction between managers and ensure feedback between managers and scientists. The fundamental purpose of the Goal Maintenance System is to ensure that once acceptable goals have been set, they are met, revised, audited and, when necessary, reintegrated into the management process. Proper documentation of decisions taken and the reasoning behind them will provide the institutional memory needed to keep future management "on track".

Integrating goals in multi-party systems

Most environmental problems involve more than one party and require interdisciplinary efforts to solve. Integrating the values, paradigms and operational approaches of the different parties needs much care, and structure, if it is to be successful and durable. A general protocol was developed to facilitate the integration and reconciliation of the different visions and agendas of a range of parties involved in the same environmental management problem. A second protocol was developed to integrate a consensus view of the environmental desired conditions for rivers into Instream Flow Requirements exercises and Integrated Catchment Management.

A hierarchical patch dynamics perspective of KNP rivers

The primary problem facing scientists and managers in the KNP has been to develop the potential to predict and monitor the response of biodiversity in specific river sections (i.e. within the park) to modifications in hydrology, sediment supply and water quality originating at the catchment scale. Any attempt to understand, let alone predict, the causal links between catchment processes and downstream biotic response is fraught with problems of scale. The pragmatic approach has been to focus attention on the downstream consequences of change in flow and sediment on the contemporary geophysical fluvial template. Geomorphic features of the rivers, described in a hierarchical classification at seven scales, provide the basis for describing the physical patch mosaic template. Each of the scales has particular geomorphological correlates, focus for managers and planners, utility and target of prediction for conservation and resource management, type of mosaic, and biological and ecological response.

The overall management goal, or "desired state", is defined by the structure and dynamics of the patch mosaic of different types of river reach. The broad strategy for research and management of the KNP rivers is to accept that if management can achieve a known spatial and temporal range of conditions in the contemporary template, the biotic diversity will be catered for in this large protected area. The main scale for description and prediction of these conditions is that of the reach, and representative reaches have been identified for this purpose. If, however, the objectives require any future focus on specific species or any other problem (e.g. water pollution, alien invasions), this can be achieved at the appropriate scale in the context of a changing patch dynamics template.

The Objectives Hierarchy of the KNP rivers

Shortly after the process of developing an Objectives Hierarchy for the rivers was nitiated, management decided to implement the process for redesigning the management strategy for the Park as a whole. This had the added benefit for the rivers hierarchy in that it integrated river and terrestrial ecosystem management in the park and provided full context for rivers management.

The vision derived for the Kruger National Park as a whole is:

To maintain biodiversity in all its natural facets and clues and to provide human benefits in keeping with the mission of the National Parks Board in a manner which detracts as little as possible from the wilderness qualities of the Kruger National Park.

The key elements of the vision commit management to maintaining Biodiversity, the provision of Human Benefits, in keeping with the mandate of the National Parks Board, maintaining the Wilderness qualities of the park and to ensuring a Balance between conservation (blodiversity and wilderness) and resource utilisation (human benefits). These four "key elements" of the vision form the fundamental value system of management which is carried through the full hierarchy.

This report focuses on the riverine component of the Kruger Park Objectives Hierarchy which falls under the Aquatic Ecosystems sub-objective, along with Non-riverine Ecosystems and Water Distribution.

During the goal setting process nine main strengths of the river systems were identified, as were their determinants threats and constraints. A comprehensive Objectives Hierarchy for management of the rivers was then developed, under the guidance of the KNP vision, to reconcile the determinants, constraints and threats.

The Riverine Ecosystems objective emphasises the need to (a) restore the health and biodiversity of most rivers and (b) to promote Integrated Catchment Management (ICM). To achieve this a series of goals have been set up under objectives which promote:

  1. Public relations to market the KNP initiatives in ICM.
  2. Revision of legislation to promote effective ICM.
  3. The adoption of Integrated Environmental Management (IEM) principles to ensure longterm ecotourism without jeopardising biodiversity and the wilderness experience.
  4. The role of rivers in providing the full spectrum of biodiversity in the Park.

Thresholds of Potential Concem. Most conservation goals are contained under the objectives relating to Research and Monitoring of Biodiversity. Their central focus is on establishing functional Thresholds of Potential Concern (TPCs) and setting up an effective monitoring programme which will form the backbone for strategic adaptive management. The monitoring programme is built on the fundamental premise that alluviation of the rivers and deteriorating water quality are the two most important threats to the rivers of the KNP. In a workshop TPCs for geomorphology (Sabie), vegetation (Sabie), fish (all rivers), invertebrates (all rivers), avifauna (all rivers) and riparian corridors for altitudinal migrants (all rivers) were determined.

The Objectives Hierarchy as a whole expresses the "desired state" for the KNP rivers in broad terms and incorporates a range of management "values", set after wide consultation with affected parties. The TPCs provide a set of "end points" which describe the "desired state" in scientific detail and also provide the basis of a parsimonious programme of monitoring for a wide range of biodiversity "indicators".

Potential for wider use

The rationalisation and protocols for a new management style in conservation presented in this report are applicable to a wide range of environmental management situations and scales because they advocate three fundamental principles; (i) forward planning, (ii) setting acceptable and achievable targets and (iii) accountability.

Wider conservation use. At the time of writing the protocols had been formally adopted by three conservation agencies for very different situations. The Northern Province Department of Environment Affairs has used them to redesign the management of the Nylsvley Nature Reserve and is using them to establish management plans for seven other reserves. The Natal Parks Board advocates and utilises these approaches in the management of the Lake St Lucia Reserve. The most ambitious use of these protocols has been in the redesigning of the management plan for the whole Kruger National Park.

Integrated Catchment Management and Strategic Environmental Assessment The field of Integrated Catchment Management is one for which these protocols hold much potential. In fact the Protocol for integrating multi-party goals and values was developed with this in mind. The concept of Strategic Environmental Assessment is being mooted as an approach to lead ICM. The protocols advocated here are well suited to giving direction and substance to the collective bargaining that will be required to inject a forward looking strategic approach to the functioning of the many river fora which are being formed across the country.

Environmental management in general Given the new governance system in South Africa, and especially the need for inclusivity, a major challenge for enviromnental management in the foreseeable future must be to integrate divergent value systems and achieve consensus on the "desired future condition" of the environment.

The protocols and procedures presented in this report are aimed, not only at achieving such integration and consensus, but also at providing guidance on how to ensure continuity of the product through future generations of managers and members of public fora. Without these tools environmental management will remain reactive and will reinvent many wheels.

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