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Adaptive management framework and decision support tool for invasive annual bromes in seven Northern Great Plains National Park Service units

May 1, 2022

National Park Service (NPS) units in the northern Great Plains (NGP) were established to preserve and interpret the history of the United States, protect and showcase unusual geology and paleontology, and provide a home for vanishing large wildlife. A unifying feature among these national parks, monuments, and historic sites is northern mixed-grass prairie, which not only provides background scenery and habitat but is the foundation of many park missions. As recognition of the prairie’s importance to park fundamental resources and values has grown, so too has the realization that invasive plants threaten these values by reducing native species diversity, altering food webs, and marring the visitor experience. Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and Japanese brome (Bromus japonicus)—collectively referred to as “annual bromes”—are of particular concern because of their documented increase through time, and their association with lower native plant diversity, in NGP parks. A variety of grazing, herbicide-application, and prescribed-fire experiments have shown promising short-term results for controlling annual bromes in research-scale plots in the NGP, but it is unclear whether these management actions will be as effective at the larger spatial and longer temporal scales relevant to park management. When uncertainties about the effectiveness of different management actions cannot be answered with traditional research approaches in time to prevent resource degradation, yet recurrent management decisions must be made, an adaptive management approach may be appropriate. Thus, in 2017, we began to develop the ABAM—Annual Brome Adaptive Management—framework. The aim of this framework is to reduce uncertainties about methods for controlling annual bromes in seven NGP parks through a formal process of learning from the application of on-going management. A uniform framework across seven parks provides greater opportunities for reducing these uncertainties compared to a single park acting alone or to multiple parks using different adaptive management frameworks.

This technical report details the development and expected implementation of the ABAM framework. After briefly introducing the issue (Section 1) and describing the context in which the framework was developed (Section 2), the report describes how a structured decision-making process was used to frame the problem, determine concrete objectives, and decide the alternative actions for achieving those objectives that the framework would be designed around (Section 3). Then the report describes the process used to develop the ABAM decision support system (Section 4). At the core of this system is the ABAM decision support tool, a Bayesian decision network built on nearly two decades of vegetation monitoring data from NGP parks, as well as current literature and ABAMspecific experiments. This tool, referred to as the ABAM model by its intended users, is built to work with the existing vegetation monitoring, prescribed fire, and invasive plant management programs that support the seven ABAM parks. In Section 5, the report describes how output from the ABAM model is produced and used in annual vegetation management decision making. It describes the ABAM R package (Baldwin et al. 2021) and an example R script that leads a user through an annual workflow using the model and the package. This workflow updates the model with information from new monitoring events following management actions of prescribed fire, herbicide application, or a combination thereof. With the updated model, data describing the current condition of vegetation in park management units, and current data for environmental factors included in the model (soil texture, slope, weather, and grazing), the user then runs the model to predict future vegetation conditions—and managers’ happiness with the outcome—in response to each of 10 management actions for each management unit in each park. These predictions inform managers’ decisions regarding locations and types of management actions to apply in the upcoming year.

The ABAM framework is in its infancy, and the report concludes (Section 6) with a discussion of its longer-term viability. Successful adaptive management requires commitment for the long term, likely decades. Currently, the predictions of the decision support tool are not expected to be highly accurate, but they ideally will improve over time as more management actions are applied and their outcomes are captured by monitoring. We designed the ABAM decision support tool to work with the existing management and monitoring resources in ABAM parks to maximize the sustainability of the model’s use, but the ABAM framework requires more than the model. Because this application of an adaptive management framework supported by a quantitative decision support tool to guide vegetation management is unique within the NPS (to our knowledge), institutional knowledge and mechanisms for long-term implementation of the ABAM framework do not exist within the agency. Additionally, the ABAM model and the data that inform it could be improved in a variety of ways. Thus, this report concludes with a discussion of ways to both sustain and improve upon the work completed so far.

Publication Year 2022
Title Adaptive management framework and decision support tool for invasive annual bromes in seven Northern Great Plains National Park Service units
DOI 10.36967/nrr-2288750
Authors Amy Symstad, Heather Baldwin, Max Post van der Burg
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Series Title Natural Resource Report
Series Number NPS/NGPN/NRR-2022/2381
Index ID 70232096
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center