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Structured decision making for managing pneumonia epizootics in bighorn sheep

August 1, 2016

Good decision-making is essential to conserving wildlife populations. Although there may be multiple ways to address a problem, perfect solutions rarely exist. Managers are therefore tasked with identifying decisions that will best achieve desired outcomes. Structured decision making (SDM) is a method of decision analysis used to identify the most effective, efficient, and realistic decisions while accounting for values and priorities of the decision maker. The stepwise process includes identifying the management problem, defining objectives for solving the problem, developing alternative approaches to achieve the objectives, and formally evaluating which alternative is most likely to accomplish the objectives. The SDM process can be more effective than informal decision-making because it provides a transparent way to quantitatively evaluate decisions for addressing multiple management objectives while incorporating science, uncertainty, and risk tolerance. To illustrate the application of this process to a management need, we present an SDM-based decision tool developed to identify optimal decisions for proactively managing risk of pneumonia epizootics in bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) in Montana. Pneumonia epizootics are a major challenge for managers due to long-term impacts to herds, epistemic uncertainty in timing and location of future epizootics, and consequent difficulty knowing how or when to manage risk. The decision tool facilitates analysis of alternative decisions for how to manage herds based on predictions from a risk model, herd-specific objectives, and predicted costs and benefits of each alternative. Decision analyses for 2 example herds revealed that meeting management objectives necessitates specific approaches unique to each herd. The analyses showed how and under what circumstances the alternatives are optimal compared to other approaches and current management. Managers can be confident that these decisions are effective, efficient, and realistic because they explicitly account for important considerations managers implicitly weigh when making decisions, including competing management objectives, uncertainty in potential outcomes, and risk tolerance.

Publication Year 2016
Title Structured decision making for managing pneumonia epizootics in bighorn sheep
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.21088
Authors Sarah N. Sells, Michael S. Mitchell, Victoria L. Edwards, Justin A. Gude, Neil J. Anderson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Management
Index ID 70184325
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle