Use of Structured Decision Making to Optimize Salt Marsh Management Decisions at Northeastern National Wildlife Refuges

Science Center Objects

US Fish and Wildlife Service completed a regional assessment of salt marsh integrity (SMI)  on 15 National Wildlife Refuges/Refuge Complexes in the northeastern US. Developed within a structured decision making (SDM) framework, the SMI assessment provides essential baseline data on salt marsh condition relative to regional management objectives. These data now provide the basis for applying the SDM framework to optimize management decisions. 

The Challenge: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) needs tools to inform decisions regarding the management and restoration of salt marsh ecosystems on northeastern National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs). Previously, we developed a structured decision making (SDM) framework for optimizing refuge management decisions at the regional scale. This SDM framework served as the foundation for a consistent approach to monitoring salt marsh integrity on refuges throughout the region, in which the monitoring variables are linked explicitly to management goals. Monitoring data now exist to provide the basis for prioritizing local management options. 

The Science: In partnership with FWS, we are applying the regional SDM framework to fifteen northeastern coastal NWRs. We engaged regional and refuge biologists and managers in workshops to identify potential actions to achieve management objectives and predict possible the outcomes of management actions. We have built this information into prototype refuge-specific Excel-based tools that can be used to identify those actions that maximize total management benefits subject to refuge-wide budget constraints. The prototype tools provide structured approaches for local decision making that can be updated for implementation as new data and information become available.   

The Future: SDM provides a systematic, transparent approach for connecting the outcomes of complex decisions to overall management objectives. Use of the SDM framework on northeastern NWRs helps to ensures that monitoring data can be used to improve the quality of management decisions.