SDM for wildlife disease outbreaks

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’. This study reports on a structured-decision-making framework developed for Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (USA) for understanding the trade-offs of managing disease outbreaks proactively or reactively.

The first part of the framework is a model to estimate the probability of disease outbreak given field observations available to managers. The second part of the framework is decision analysis that evaluates likely outcomes of management alternatives based on the estimated probability of disease outbreak, and applies managers’ values for different objectives to indicate a preferred management strategy.

The researchers used pneumonia in bighorn sheep as a case study for their approach, applying it to two populations in Montana that differed in their likelihood of a pneumonia outbreak. The framework provided credible predictions of both probability of disease outbreaks, as well as biological and monetary consequences of management actions.

The structured decision-making approach to this problem was valuable for defining the challenges of disease management in a decentralized agency where decisions are generally made at the local level in cooperation with stakeholders. Their approach provides local managers with the ability to tailor management planning for disease outbreaks to local conditions.

More info: Terry Walshe

Reference Mitchell MS, JA Gude, NJ Anderson, JM Ramsey, MJ Thompson, MB Sullivan, VL Edwards, CN Gower, JF Cochrane, ER Irwin & T Walshe (2013). Using structured decision making to manage disease risk for Montana wildlife. Wildlife Society Bulletin 37: 107-114.

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