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Multicriteria decisions and portfolio analysis: Land acquisition for biological and social objectives

July 18, 2021

Resource allocation for land acquisition is a common multi-objective problem that involves complex trade-offs. The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently uses the Targeted Resource Acquisition Comparison Tool (TRACT) to allocate funds from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF; established through the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Act of 1934) for land acquisition based on cost-benefit analysis, regional priority rankings of candidate land parcels available for acquisition, and the overall biological contribution to duck population objectives. However, current policy encourages decision makers to consider societal and economic benefits of lands acquired, in addition to their biological benefits to waterfowl. These decisions about portfolio elements (i.e. individual land parcels) require an analysis of the difficult trade-offs among multiple objectives. In the last decade the application of multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) methods has been instrumental in aiding decision makers with complex multi-objective decisions. In this study, we present an alternative approach to developing land acquisition portfolios using MCDA and Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT). We describe the development of a portfolio decision analysis tool using constrained optimization for land acquisition decisions by the NWRS. We outline the decision framework, describe development of the prototype tool in Microsoft Excel, and test the results of the tool using land parcels submitted as candidates for MBCF funding in 2019. Our results indicate that the constrained optimization outperformed the traditional TRACT method and ad hoc portfolios developed using current NWRS criteria.