Many case studies in adaptive-management planning for riparian ecosystems have failed to produce useful models for policy comparison or good experimental management plans for resolving key uncertainties. Modeling efforts have been plagued by difficulties in representation of cross-scale effects (from rapid hydrologic change to long-term ecological response), lack of data on key processes that are difficult to study, and confounding of factor effects in validation data. Experimental policies have been seen as too costly or risky, particularly in relation to monitoring costs and risk to sensitive species. Research and management stakeholders have shown deplorable self-interest, seeing adaptive-policy development as a threat to existing research programs and management regimes, rather than as an opportunity for improvement. Proposals for experimental management regimes have exposed and highlighted some really fundamental conflicts in ecological values, particularly in cases in which endangered species have prospered under historical management and would be threatened by ecosystem restoration efforts. There is much potential for adaptive management in the future, if we can find ways around these barriers.