Structured decision making is a systematic, transparent process for improving the quality of complex decisions by identifying measurable management objectives and feasible management actions; predicting the potential consequences of management actions relative to the stated objectives; and selecting a course of action that maximizes the total benefit achieved and balances tradeoffs among objectives. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, applied an existing, regional framework for structured decision making to develop a prototype tool for optimizing tidal marsh management decisions at the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuges in Virginia. Refuge biologists, refuge managers, and research scientists identified multiple potential management actions to improve the ecological integrity of six marsh management units within the refuges, totaling about 575 hectares, and estimated the outcomes of each action in terms of performance metrics associated with each management objective. Value functions previously developed at the regional level were used to transform metric scores to a common utility scale, and utilities were summed to produce a single score representing the total management benefit that could be accrued from each potential management action. Constrained optimization was used to identify the set of management actions, one per marsh management unit, that could maximize total management benefits at different cost constraints at the refuge scale. Results indicated that, for the objectives and actions considered here, total management benefits may increase consistently up to approximately $143,000, but that further expenditures may yield diminishing return on investment. Potential management actions in optimal portfolios at total costs less than $143,000 included digging runnels by hand to improve drainage from the marsh surface, breaching a road to restore natural hydrology, trapping predators to enhance nest success of tidal marsh birds, and reducing the abundance of Odocoileus virginianus (white-tailed deer) to minimize their effects on marsh vegetation. The potential management benefits were derived from expected increases in number of tidal marsh obligate breeding birds, species richness of nekton, and density of spiders (as an indicator of trophic health); and an expected decrease in duration of surface flooding. The prototype presented here does not resolve management decisions; rather, it provides a framework for decision making at the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuges that can be updated as new data and information become available. Insights from this process may also be useful to inform future habitat management planning at the refuges.
|Title||Optimization of salt marsh management at the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuges, Virginia, through use of structured decision making|
|Authors||Hilary A. Neckles, James E. Lyons, Jessica L. Nagel, Susan C. Adamowicz, Toni Mikula, Pamela Denmon, Robert Leffel|
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Series Title||Open-File Report|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Eastern Ecological Science Center|