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Notes from the Field: Putting Structured Decision-Making to Work

Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Structured Decision Making workshop participants. Photo: T Bonnot

In 2013, NE CSC sent Graduate Fellow Thomas Bonnot to the National Conservation Training Center to learn how to lead others in structured decision-making (SDM).  He is now putting that training to use to help guide regional conservation.

The Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks Landscape Conservation Cooperative (GCPO) is an important example of regional collaborations across agency and ownership boundaries to conserve sustainable landscapes in the face of global change.  But, their planning is hampered by uncertainty in how species will respond to conservation actions amidst impacts from landscape and climate change, especially when those impacts are also uncertain.  Their efforts are also complicated by the complexities of the planning decisions, including strategic considerations such as the amount, configuration, and condition of habitat needed. How can a management action that is the best for all species be identified when different species will likely have conflicting responses to each action?

Under Thomas’s efforts, the University of Missouri, U.S. Forest Service, the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture and the Northeast Climate Science Center have teamed up with the GCPO to pilot a process for combining population viability and landscape modeling with SDM to overcome uncertainty and reduce the complexity of management decisions.  The models project the impacts of climate and landscape change and habitat restoration on the Ozark Highlands populations of focal species.  Simultaneously conveying responses of wildlife populations to conservation scenarios and the risk associated with those responses provides managers with a more intuitive and defensible way of comparing choices for a given species. 

An SDM workshop was held June 7-8 in Branson, Missouri to work through the conservation scenarios and determine action.  With the Ozark Highland's planning team members, which represents the GCPO, Central Hardwoods Joint Venture, USGS, USFWS and state agencies of Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, Thomas led workshop participants through projected species responses to alternative habitat restoration scenarios.  The teams were made up of SWAP managers for the three states, regional an science coordinators, ecologists, refuge biologists and private lands coordinators. They used SDM to interpret uncertainty in terms of risk and resolve tradeoffs among conservation scenarios across species.  Together their efforts enabled the team to make a decision and demonstrated that this approach can help the GCPO and regional planning in general.

Contributed by Thomas Bonnot, NE CSC Graduate Fellow


Thomas presented this work in a GCPO webinar on July 20, 2016.  Guiding Regional Conservation Planning under Climate Change: Integrating dynamic landscape population models with structured decision making. View the Webinar >>

Stay tuned for the final report and upcoming manuscripts from this work!

View Project Page >>