Structured Decision Making: A Vehicle for Navigating the Crossroads of Cultures in Wildlife Management

Symposium
ROOM: Room 235 – Mesilla
SESSION NUMBER: 17
 
Wildlife management decisions are complex opportunities that emerge at the intersections of science, policy, and the public trust. In recent years, structured decision making (SDM) has become an increasingly popular approach for making decisions pursuant to multiple objectives in spite of pervasive uncertainty. Because management actions and policies can produce asymmetrical benefits among stakeholder groups, wildlife managers must account for tradeoffs among competing or conflicting objectives, as well as our imperfect understanding of how the managed system will respond to proposed actions. SDM provides a systematic process for disentangling what we want to achieve (values) from what we know (science), clarifying whether conflicts arise from disagreements over what is likely to happen or how predicted outcomes are being valued. SDM creates space for multi-stakeholder dialogue and participatory decision making involving different sectors, interest groups, regulatory authorities, and researchers, each of which possesses their own area of expertise, resources, and cultural norms. Our symposium will showcase diverse applications of SDM in wildlife management, demonstrating how the framework is used to generate practical and defensible decision guidance despite differences among collaborators’ backgrounds, values, and roles. The symposium will highlight the versatility of the SDM approach and how it can help to bridge the gaps between the decision-making cultures of regulators, stakeholders, and scientists to capitalize on the unique contributions of each and identify management strategies with the greatest potential to achieve an optimal balance across objectives, despite incomplete knowledge.

1:10PM Road Management for a Declining Species: Integrating Multiple Objectives Through Structured Decision Making
  Brian A. Crawford; John C. Maerz; Nik Heynen; Terry M. Norton; Clinton T. Moore
Roads represent valuable infrastructure important to people’s daily lives and local economies; they are also a wicked problem posing direct and indirect threats to nearby wildlife populations. Structured decision making (SDM) has emerged as an effective tool for addressing similar contexts with multiple threats, stakeholders, and objectives. However, SDM applications have typically used more rigorous quantitative models to treat ecological, relative to social, objectives. Furthermore, SDM has not been applied to road management, where the preferences of large public user groups must be considered. We describe the co-development of a multi-objective SDM framework with local stakeholders to identify road management decisions using the diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) as a focal species and the Jekyll Island Causeway (Jekyll Island, Georgia, USA) as a model system. We integrated ecological field research, management impact assessments, stakeholder attitude surveys, and expert opinion to characterize the socioecological system. We developed decision models to predict the effects of 20 alternative management strategies on outcomes of five objectives, including terrapin persistence and Jekyll Island patron satisfaction. The SDM framework identified a best-performing strategy that was robust and insensitive to stakeholder-specific preferences of objectives. This strategy performed well – but not best – for each objective and included complementary actions (roadside barriers, warning signage, conservation awareness campaigns) to address multiple road threats. Our results provide direct recommendations for addressing terrapin conservation and socioeconomic goals for Jekyll Island and other sites of high terrapin-vehicle collisions. Furthermore, our study demonstrates the efficacy of applying SDM to contexts where a decision is needed but not mandated, including those involving road management. Lastly, we highlight the novel use of human dimensions data alongside population models in SDM to more accurately measure social and ecological outcomes important for decisions.
1:30PM Bridging the Research-Management Gap: Effective Conservation Decisions for Flatwoods Salamanders through Adaptive Management
  Katherine M. O’Donnell; Susan C. Walls
Globally, amphibians are among the most imperiled taxa; 35 native amphibian species are currently listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Preventing extinction often requires both in situ actions (i.e., protecting species in their natural habitats) and ex situ strategies (i.e., conservation breeding programs). Conservation decisions about actions for federally-protected species are complex because managers must address regulatory requirements in addition to complicated biological issues. Thus, effectively evaluating the costs, risks, and benefits of recovery actions requires input from various stakeholders, including scientists, agency personnel, non-governmental organizations, and land managers. The flatwoods salamanders (Ambystoma cingulatum and A. bishopi) are federally-protected species native to the southeastern United States, but these species lack complete recovery plans. Substantial uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of possible conservation actions hinders recovery planning. In 2013, we established the informal Flatwoods Salamander Working Group to coordinate conservation actions among researchers and land managers. We opted to formally confront the complexity and uncertainty about potential recovery actions using structured decision making (SDM) – a process that decomposes a decision into key components: problem identification, management objectives, potential actions, prediction models, and optimization processes that reconcile tradeoffs. We will present a summary of two SDM workshops—one focused on conservation breeding, the other on habitat restoration. We will discuss decision outcomes and highlight current efforts toward species recovery. This talk will illustrate many advantages of using adaptive management (a type of SDM) in resolving conservation problems involving data deficiencies, disagreements among stakeholders, and decision paralysis (i.e., delays in implementing actions due to uncertainty).
1:50PM Applied Conservation Decision Making in Dynamic Environments: A Case Study in Puerto Rico
  Krishna Pacifici
Our world is becoming more developed and connected creating uncertainty in how our actions will affect the environment and how the environment will respond to such rapid changes. Conservation planning, a common objective for many agencies, is a progressively more difficult task due to the multiple sources of uncertainty interacting in a complex environment often with competing objectives and budgetary constraints. Here we develop an implementable and robust framework to optimally allocate conservation efforts with multiple objectives and many sources of uncertainty. Specifically, we are interested in increasing protected land in Puerto Rico from 8% to 15% by determining the optimal combination of land acquisition (e.g., creating biological corridors among existing reserves, expanding existing reserves) and land management (e.g., converting agricultural land to protected land, changing agricultural practices through incentives) while maximizing biodiversity of several distinct taxa (birds, amphibians, and pollinators) and economic value (through coffee production). Our goal is to provide a fully interpretable and implementable optimal strategy to adaptively manage in the face of land-use and climate uncertainties and to allow managers to explore tradeoffs of different actions to improve their understanding of complex agro-environmental systems and increase biodiversity in Puerto Rico. This strategy is capable of handling realistic cost (e.g., changes in budget through time) and implementation constraints (e.g., variability in what parcels of land become available to purchase or integrate, and logistical field issues). We estimate the optimal policy using a novel class of reinforcement learning algorithms designed for spatiotemporal decision-making. We present the optimal strategy as a decision list that prioritizes which land should be managed, integrated, acquired or connected. We believe this approach has the potential to be used in many other spatiotemporal decision problems involving multiple sources of uncertainty and objectives.
2:10PM Whose Objectives Are These Anyway? – The Perils of Navigating the Cultural Crossroads Without First Looking in All Directions
  Graham Long
An early step in SDM frameworks involves articulating objectives. But perhaps in our eagerness to select our favourite trade-off analysis tools, the relatively mundane task of specifying ‘what matters’ is sometimes passed over as though the answer were obvious. In this presentation, I will discuss how actors from various wildlife management backgrounds often approach structured decision making processes, and the problems that can follow when people choose not to consider others’ viewpoints. Navigating the cultural crossroads means structuring wildlife decisions – holistically, and from the outset – around the full range of objectives that matter to someone affected by them. This means thinking outside our comfort zones as regulators, managers and scientists, and – with suitable safety precautions – talking to each other.
2:30PM We Have Been Talking Past Each Other: an Analysis of Decision Framings for Endangered Species Classification
  Jonathan W. Cummings; Sarah J. Converse; David R. Smith; Steve Morey; Michael C. Runge
Legal classification of species as threatened or endangered requires scientific and values-based components, and how those components interact is determined by how people frame the decision. Is classification simply a matter of comparing the biological status of a species against a legal standard? Is classification about negotiating trade-offs between the value of species protection and other interests, or is it about deciding how to spend limited funds for conservation? Or perhaps is it another type of decision altogether? We suggest that the existence of multiple decision framings, without explicit discussion and selection of a particular framing, generates controversies over endangered species classification decisions. In our experience decision-makers, staff biologists, and stakeholders often view the decision problem differently and assume different framings, contributing to increased regulatory paralysis, court interventions, and loss of trust by agency staff and the public. We hypothesize that clarifying the decision framing will help reduce conflict and lead to more efficient and defensible decisions. We present multiple explicit framings for species classification from a decision-analytic perspective, which vary by their required scientific and policy tasks and by how they account for multiple species, classify species over time, weigh extinction against other objectives, and incorporate strategic considerations. We propose that greater clarity in framing is requisite for improved rationale and scientific support for species classification decisions.
2:50PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM Integration of Social and Ecological Sciences for Natural Resource Decision Making: Challenges and Opportunities
  Angela K. Fuller; Kelly F. Robinson; Richard Stedman; William Seamer
Over the last 25 years, thinking regarding management decision making in natural resources has shifted towards increased recognition that social science is as important as ecological science. However, despite the acknowledgment that effective natural resource management must integrate both the social and ecological sciences, major challenges regarding this integration persist. Structured decision making has become more commonplace and offers a natural framework for addressing complex socio-ecological problems. We present a description of the use of decision analysis in natural resources management, as well as a typology of challenges related to incorporating social science into decision-making frameworks, such as structured decision making. We provide suggestions for overcoming these challenges and avenues for future research into integrating social science into decision analysis.
3:40PM Organizational Decision Quality: Building a Culture of Structured Decision Making Within Federal Agencies and Their Partners
  Michael C. Runge
Wildlife management agencies are decision-making agencies—wisely balancing the multifaceted desires of society for the natural world is the core of their mission. The principles of structured decision making show us how to develop high-quality decisions: identify the appropriate framing for the decision; articulate clear objectives; consider an array of creative alternatives; evaluate the alternatives against the objectives with the best available science; and use sound reasoning to choose among the alternatives. The tools of decision analysis provide methods for navigating decisions involving multiple objectives, risk, uncertainty, complex alternatives, and temporal dynamics. But how do we embed these practices in our agencies? Institutions that successfully build decision quality into their organizations typically proceed through four steps. In the first stage, the use of decision analysis develops in a grassroots manner, with individual projects championed by motivated individuals. Several of the bureaus within the Department of the Interior are currently at this stage. In the second stage, islands of expertise and consistent application of decision analysis appear throughout the agency, supported by a few key decision makers. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and several state wildlife agencies have proceeded to this stage. In the third stage, the entire agency adopts the practices of decision analysis, led by commitments from the top of the organization. In the fourth stage, the use of decision analysis is so ingrained in the agency that it can survive changes in leadership. Within DOI and its partners, the development of organizational decision quality has been achieved through demonstration projects, training, communities of practice, and focused recruitment of staff. The success is tangible, with many dozens of decision practitioners having facilitated hundreds of projects over the last decade, enhancing the achievement of wildlife and human goals while engaging stakeholders and the public in the process.
4:00PM Balancing Risk and Reward in Coastal Impoundment Management
  Rachel Katz
Many natural resource decisions are complicated by balancing trade-offs among multiple objectives in the face of high uncertainty. The US Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) aims to maximize waterfowl and shorebird habitat quality, increase coastal resiliency and reduce declines in marsh birds (i.e., saltmarsh sparrow). In recent years, sea level rise and storm intensity associated with climate change has resulted in major infrastructure damage and unintended breaching to coastal impoundments traditionally managed for migratory waterfowl and shorebird habitat. Refuges are now faced with the decision of when to proactively restore coastal impoundments to saltmarsh habitat to minimize catastrophic breaching events and long-term costs associated with impoundment infrastructure repair. Since restoration does not guarantee future marsh resiliency, these decisions must balance the loss of waterfowl and shorebird habitat and the potential gains in marsh resiliency. Additionally, refuges must consider impact to various stakeholders and maintaining recreational opportunities, which are increased when freshwater impoundments are maintained. Using structured decision-making, we explore how refuges can balance the risk and rewards associated with coastal impoundment restoration and address potential conflicts among stakeholders and among refuge priorities. We use decision analysis to identify an “optimal restoration window” that delays restoration to maximize freshwater ecosystem values but also the potential to be converted to high marsh habitat and maintain coastal resiliency. Monitoring plans can then be updated to include key ecological metrics to identify when impoundments are reaching the optimal restoration window.
4:20PM Application of Structured Decision Making in Development of a Gulf-Wide AvianMonitoring Network
  Robert J. Cooper; Evan Adams; Peter Fredrick; Jeff Gleason; Jim Lyons; John Tirpak; Randy Wilson; Mark S. Woodrey
Despite the importance of the Gulf of Mexico to North American avifauna, no comprehensive, Gulf-wide, bird monitoring program exists for any avian taxonomic group. This deficiency was highlighted during and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, when little was learned about the effects of the spill on bird populations. To address the diverse monitoring challenges and complexities across species, habitats, and the region, the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network (GoMAMN) was formed. Comprised of a diversity of conservation partners including state and federal agencies, NGOs, and academic institutions, GoMAMN’s broad goal is to define a vision and process for developing the role of bird monitoring in achieving integrated, efficient, and effective Gulf of Mexico management and recovery of impacted avian species. Utilizing a Structured Decision Making process, the team developed a set of fundamental objectives along with an explicit objectives hierarchy that reflects the goals, objectives, values, and information needs for an integrated Gulf avian monitoring strategy. Fundamental objectives reflect the need for scientific rigor, relevancy, and integration with other monitoring efforts. Relevant emphases of monitoring efforts focus on maximizing ability to (1) assess status and trends, (2) reduce uncertainty associated with management, and (3) understand ecological processes and their respective impacts on avian populations. Collectively, this framework provides a means to establish baselines for assessing future perturbations, evaluate restoration activities, and fill critical information gaps related to how ecological processes drive bird populations, as well as a means to establish priorities among many options for monitoring.
4:40PM Panel Discussion
 

 
Organizers: Tara Gancos Crawford, Georgia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of Georgia, Athens, GA; Abby J. Lawson, South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Clemson University, Clemson, SC; Sarah J. Converse, USGS Patuxent Wil
 

Symposium
Location: Albuquerque Convention Center Date: September 24, 2017 Time: 1:10 pm - 5:00 pm