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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Informing Conservation Management Decision-Making at Coastal National Wildlife Refuges


Coastal National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) provide a myriad of beneficial services, including buffering storm surge, improving water quality, supporting commercial fisheries, and providing habitat for imperiled wildlife and plants. Yet in the last century, coastal ecosystems in the eastern U.S. have been severely altered by human development activities as well as sea-level rise and more frequent extreme events related to climate change. These influences threaten the goods and services provided by NWRs and pose decision-making challenges for refuge managers. The purpose of this project was to explore how structured decision-making – a formal, systematic method for analyzing decisions – could help NWR staff make informed choices about planning for and adapting to sea-level rise and other climate change impacts. This project involved a number of face-to-face meetings with refuge managers on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, as well as two workshops involving managers, scientists, and decision analysts. Researchers developed a prototype two-track approach for helping managers make decisions that (1) efficiently allocate their limited staff time and budgets in the short-term and (2) sustain the values provided by NWRs in the long-term. This project was jointly supported by the Northeast Climate Science Center and the Southeast Climate Science Center. This project is Phase 1 of an effort to inform resource management at coastal NWRs. Learn more about Phase 2 of the project: Climate Change Adaptation for Coastal National Wildlife Refuges.