Social, Legal, and Ecological Capacity for Adaptation and Transformation in the Everglades

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The Florida Everglades is a subtropical wetland in the southeastern USA that has been hydrologically modified to protect urban and agricultural lands from flooding, while supplying water for urban interests and Everglades National Park. The social-ecological system has sought control over the surface water through infrastructure of canals, levees, and pumps to direct water movement, managed by a complex institutional arrangement of federal, state, and local governments. Water control has been largely achieved through adaptation and transformation to unforeseen environmental events, too much or too little rainfall and nutrient movement across the wet landscapes. Law has provided both the resources to foster economic and conservation objectives but also resulted in rigid planning and continuing litigation, constraining the adaptive capacity of the social-ecological system of the Florida Everglades to respond to seen and unforeseen environmental changes. Rigid management at higher levels and failure to balance stability of economic investment and varied stakeholder values of the Everglades with flexibility to adjust management measures have limited the emergence of adaptive governance.