Setting conservation management thresholds Monitoring is routinely used by conservation managers to determine the state of the environmental values they are responsible for. That might be the numbers of a threatened species or the health of an ecosystem in a national park. When changes in condition are observed, decisions should be made about whether or […]
When to act?
This issue is about models and frameworks for making robust decisions. Sounds a bit dry? Well, not the way we tell it. The stories gathered here make a compelling case for the appropriate use of models and frameworks like structured decision making (SDM), and it’s not hard to see the passion that lies between our arguments.
Structured decision making (SDM) is the theme of this issue of Decision Point and in the following pages we show how it can be applied to a variety of resourcing issues from camping in the Grampians to trampling in the intertidal (see several related articles in this issue). In this research brief, SDM is applied to managing wildlife disease in Montana (with one of the researchers here being EDG’s Terry Walshe). Infectious diseases in wildlife are on the increase, and they pose significant threats to the health of wildlife, humans and biodiversity more generally. Wildlife managers are generally poorly prepared to manage disease outbreaks proactively, relying instead on reactive ‘crisis management’.
Managers of the environment are routinely faced with making complex decisions with little information and high levels of uncertainty. It’s a tough ask, but that’s their job. When decisions have to be made regardless of these constraints, structured decision making (often simply referred to as SDM) is a useful tool for guiding managers through the decision process.
National parks in Victoria are established with the twin aims of conserving environmental assets while also providing quality, sustainable recreational experiences. But what if the recreational experiences result in the trashing of the environmental assets? Activities of visitors can have significant negative impacts on the natural values of parks, both at the site and landscape scale. The marked increase in nature tourism over the last 20 years has meant that managers are increasingly challenged in finding the right balance between enabling recreation and ensuring conservation. Structured decision making (SDM) provides a useful framework for guiding decisions about the management of visitors and their associated environmental impacts.
In order to adaptively manage protected areas, conservation managers need to know when to implement management actions to prevent ecosystems trending towards an unfavourable condition. Whilst ecological research and monitoring can help define unfavourable ecosystem conditions; the question of when to implement a management action requires value judgements by decision-makers. Such judgements require decision-makers to subjectively trade-off competing objectives. For example, if visitors to a reserve are having an impact, there is a trade-off between environmental (eg, biodiversity benefits), social (eg, visitor satisfaction) and economic (eg, the cost of management actions) objectives.
The available resources of a conservation management agency are typically spread over many ecological values and multiple threats. Management plans guide the manner in which the allocation takes place and these plans are periodically reviewed in order to consider better ways that the available resources might be spread around. But the complexity of the problems being dealt with often mean the reviews don’t achieve much in the way of change.
It should come as no surprise that in seeking to effectively manage around four million hectares of parks (including national, state, wilderness, marine, historic and urban parks and waterways), Parks Victoria needs to make tough decisions about how it will allocate its limited resources. Complementary to the question of how to allocate resources for best outcomes is the fact that, over many years, park managers have made many assumptions around ‘if I do x then y conservation outcomes will be achieved’.