Decision frameworks for evaluating risk and managing natural resources under climate change

The NE CSC strives to become a valued source of emerging information and tools for evaluating the impacts of climate change, and for developing systematic approaches that learn from, inform, and improve resource management (i.e., adaptive management) strategies that cope with climate change within the region. This final crosscutting and interdisciplinary theme has implications for many of the science needs and priorities outlined in Themes 1-6. The NE CSC will become a national leader in risk-based impact analysis. We endeavor to create decision frameworks and tools that integrate the best available science about historical and future impacts on natural and cultural resources as well as their associated uncertainties into frameworks that are meaningful and relevant to resource managers and decision makers. Approaches will be interdisciplinary and collaborative, so that both ecological and social sciences are integrated, and stakeholders are involved in all phases of planning and adaptation strategies.
 
 
One approach that will be explored is “Structured Decision-Making,” the application of decision theory, risk analysis, and stakeholder engagement in the analysis of natural resource management decisions. In this process, special attention is devoted to the decisions that must be made by resource managers and the potential objectives, alternatives, quality of information available, uncertainty, and outcomes that they encounter. The approach recognizes the iterative component of natural resource decision-making and the ability to update decisions in the future. The NE CSC has particular interest and expertise in the application of structured decision-making to climate change and natural resource management, and consortium members have a long history of working with stakeholders in addressing climate impacts in decision frameworks (e.g., Brown et al., 2011; Brown and Wilby 2012). Examples of the application of decision frameworks include: 1) on-going studies of management strategies to address change in the Great Lakes, 2) the development of indicators of ecological integrity of wetland systems in the northeast region, and 3) the integration of harvest models for horsehoe crabs that acknowledge potential impacts on migrating red knots in Delaware Bay (McGowan et al., 2011; Converse et al., In press). The NE CSC will work closely with the LCCs and other managers and management partners to assess decision needs and develop decision-support tools to address myriad climate impacts in the region on natural and cultural resources. The NE CSC envisions a complementary role with these partners, where the NE CSC focuses on the science of decision frameworks, while the LCCs and other entities ensure that the tools are available and useful to managers and other stakeholders. 
 

Other frameworks that will be of high interest in evaluating risk, vulnerability, and planning for future climate changes include Vulnerability Assessments, Ecosystem-Based-Management, Adaptive Resource Management, Strategic Habitat Conservation, and Scenario Planning (Glick et al., 2011; Nelson et al., 2011; Failing et al., 2012; Nelson et al., 2013b; Rowland et al., In Press). These tools represent holistic, iterative, interactive, and transparent processes that are intended to foster collaborative processes when developing conservation priorities, planning, and climate change adaptation responses. The NE CSC will work with regional partners and stakeholders (e.g., LCCs) to support and coordinate these types of evaluations, with the ultimate goal of delivering the most relevant science to managers to assist responses to climate change impacts across the region. 
 
Consideration of how human social processes and behaviors will be impacted by climate change and contribute additional risks to natural resources (e.g., from landscape-scale anthropogenic stressors) will often be important components of decision frameworks and tools. This is largely because depending on their willingness to participate and adopt conservation practices, stakeholder networks can have a significant influence on the success of protective, restorative, and other management actions involving natural resources. Therefore considering human attitudes and including stakeholders, as well as engaging constituents that effect conservation efforts (e.g., the private sector) in the development and implementation of adaptation strategies and policies may increase the effectiveness of management efforts in the region. 
 
Recommendations 
 
  • Sponsor trainings and workshops (e.g., in partnership with the National Conservation Training Center) to promote decision-support approaches among stakeholders. 

  • Work with stakeholders and partners with shared goals (e.g., State Wildlife Action Plans; National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy; US Global Change Research Program) to develop frameworks and decision-support tools for planning and implementing adaptation strategies and policies (including both “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches) in response to climate change. 

  • Use decision frameworks and tools to assess the resistance, resilience, vulnerability and sustainability of natural and cultural strategies to inform climate change adaptation strategies. 

  • In cooperation with stakeholders and partners, use decision frameworks to identify key sources of uncertainty and information gaps in resource monitoring and assessment systems, and develop statistically-valid monitoring protocols for application by resource managers. 

  • Collaborate with stakeholders and partners to use decision frameworks to develop tools that improve data sharing, encourage research collaboration, standardize data collection and management protocols, and maximize limited resources to achieve sustainable resource management and conservation in the context of changing climate throughout the region. 

  • Partner with social scientists to understand how aspects of human dimensions are influenced by climate change impacts, and how social factors may aid or impede conservation and adaptation strategies. 

  • Incorporate human dimensions considerations (e.g., public opinion and policy, ecosystem services, economic implications) into decision frameworks and climate change recommendations.