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On formally integrating science and policy: walking the walk

March 5, 2015

The contribution of science to the development and implementation of policy is typically neither direct nor transparent.  In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) made a decision that was unprecedented in natural resource management, turning to an unused and unproven decision process to carry out trust responsibilities mandated by an international treaty.  The decision process was adopted for the establishment of annual sport hunting regulations for the most economically important duck population in North America, the 6 to 11 million mallards Anas platyrhynchos breeding in the mid-continent region of north-central United States and central Canada.  The key idea underlying the adopted decision process was to formally embed within it a scientific process designed to reduce uncertainty (learn) and thus make better decisions in the future.  The scientific process entails use of models to develop predictions of competing hypotheses about system response to the selected action at each decision point.  These prediction not only are used to select the optimal management action, but also are compared with the subsequent estimates of system state variables, providing evidence for modifying degrees of confidence in, and hence relative influence of, these models at the next decision point.  Science and learning in one step are formally and directly incorporated into the next decision, contrasting with the usual ad hoc and indirect use of scientific results in policy development and decision-making.  Application of this approach over the last 20 years has led to a substantial reduction in uncertainty, as well as to an increase in transparency and defensibility of annual decisions and a decrease in the contentiousness of the decision process.  As resource managers are faced with increased uncertainty associated with various components of global change, this approach provides a roadmap for the future scientific management of natural resources.  

Publication Year 2015
Title On formally integrating science and policy: walking the walk
DOI 10.1111/1365-2664.12406
Authors James D. Nichols, Fred A. Johnson, Byron K. Williams, G. Scott Boomer
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Applied Ecology
Index ID 70142345
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center