While adaptive management (AM) is becoming a preferred natural resource management approach, the conditions necessary to engage in AM are not always present. In order for AM to work, there must be an ability to engage in experimentation and then incorporate what is learned. Just as few rivers are unequivocally either "runnable" or "unrunnable" by a whitewater boater, successful AM depends on a number of factors, including legal frameworks and requirements, resource allocation regimes, and existing infrastructure. We provide a classification framework for assessing the physical and institutional capacity necessary for AM using the international classification for whitewater. We then apply this classification framework to the design of an AM program for New Mexico's Rio Chama. As the case study illustrates, the classification system facilitates learning and provides an engaging way of thinking through problems and involving stakeholders. It can also help keep perceived limitations from becoming fixed reality, and it can be used to develop the conceptual model on which AM is based. The classification system allows practitioners to assess whether AM is possible by providing a way of thinking through the issues involved. © 2013 by the author(s).
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