National Park Service, USGS Collaborate on Decision Framework for the 21st-century Natural Resource Manager

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Fort Collins social scientists collaborated with several federal land management agency partners to publish Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD)—A Decision Framework for the 21st-century Natural Resource Manager. The report presents the RAD decision framework, a tool for land managers.

The National Park Service, US Geological Survey, and several federal land management agency partners recently published a report titled Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD)—A Decision Framework for the 21st-century Natural Resource Manager. The report presents and explores a simple set of distinct management options that decision makers can consider when responding to ecosystems facing the potential for rapid, irreversible ecological change. In so doing, the report provides a framework that encourages natural resource managers to consider strategic, forward-looking actions, rather than structure management goals based on past conditions.  

Amanda Cravens and Katie Clifford, USGS social scientists at the Fort Collins Science Center, provided expertise throughout the creation of the report. Cravens provided social science perspective thinking about the role of values, manager decision making, ecosystem services, and stakeholder preferences and expectations. Clifford’s post-doctoral project is exploring these aspects through empirical research, building on her previous research with the North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center (Clifford 2020 et al). 

Since 2018, Cravens has also acted as social science lead for the Federal Navigating Ecological Transformation (FedNET) working group, which collaborated with the National Park Service to produce the Resist-Accept-Direct report. FedNET, which Clifford is also a member of, works with diverse partners to foster a community of practice regarding managing transforming ecological systems. FedNET members include the National Park Service, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Geological Survey. Other USGS scientists involved in FedNET include Aparna Bamzai-Dodson, Stephen Jackson, Robin O’Malley [retired], Nathan Stephenson. 

About the Resist-Accept-Direct Decision Framework 

The natural world is always changing, as it cycles from summer to winter, from hot years to cool ones, and from dry decades to wet ones. Historically, careful study of these rhythms allowed people to understand and manage lands and waters to meet their needs. And for over a century, known past conditions have served as a baseline for conservation efforts including management of natural resources in parks.  

But the past is no longer the guide it used to be. Today, climate change is rapidly altering environmental cycles and processes with new trends and phenomena, reshaping ecosystems in national parks and other protected areas. For example, changes driven by increases in heat and aridity across much of the National Park System include: 

  • large-scale tree loss in places like Sequoia and Rocky Mountain National Parks (pictured above),  

  • increases in the extent of wildfire in Yosemite and other Western parks, 

  • immigration of entire biological communities in places like Noatak National Preserve, and 

  • threats to the persistence of iconic species like the namesake trees of Joshua Tree National Park

Climate change will continue to affect ecosystems of national parks and other protected areas for decades to come, transforming landscapes in surprising ways. Thus, natural resource management agencies need to consider how to determine and achieve conservation goals in realistic and sustainable ways under conditions of rapidly changing environments.  

The Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD) decision framework provides a simple tool that encompasses the entire decision space for responding to ecosystems facing the potential for rapid, irreversible ecological change. It assists managers in making informed, purposeful choices about how to respond to the trajectory of change, and moreover, provides a straightforward approach to support resource managers in collaborating at larger scales across jurisdictions, which today is more urgent than ever. 

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