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May 5th, 2014

“Wicked problems” to be subject of symposium on coupled human–natural systems

INSTAAR researchers Patrick Bourgeron and Jelena Vukomanovic will convene a special symposium on “wicked problems” in coupled human and natural systems at the 2014 US-IALE Annual Symposium in Anchorage, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 21. The U.S. Regional Association of the International Association for Landscape Ecology will host the meeting.

According to Bourgeron, wicked problems are complex and occur in a social context. They exist where there is no single definition of the issues, and where potential solutions are not optimal and cannot satisfy everyone. They respond to change in non-linear ways, which can cause cascading changes or tilt systems past tipping points; therefore proposed solutions can create unintended consequences in different domains. “In the past, most problems were not wicked,” Bourgeron explains. “But now the social context is global.”

Wicked problems are emerging in the ecology of coupled human and natural systems, for example where changing climate, insect infestations, historic forest management, and expanding urban areas coalesce around the problem of wildfires. As well as organizing the symposium, Bourgeron and Vukomanovic will present results from their National Science Foundation-funded research on the dynamics of coupled natural and human systems in the Colorado Front Range wildland/urban interface.

The US-IALE symposium, “Cascading Thresholds in Coupled Human and Natural Systems and the Emergence of Wicked Problems,” will highlight wicked problems across different systems and scales, formulate a process to identify when an environmental issue becomes a wicked problem, and outline the implications for ecosystem management. Participants will create a template to characterize and address wicked problems in coupled human and natural systems.