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Use of Structured Decision Making to Identify Monitoring Variables and Management Priorities for Salt Marsh Ecosystems

Abstract

Most salt marshes in the USA have been degraded by human activities, and coastal managers are faced with complex choices among possible actions to restore or enhance ecosystem integrity. We applied structured decision making (SDM) to guide selection of monitoring variables and management priorities for salt marshes within the National Wildlife Refuge System in the northeastern USA. In general, SDM is a systematic process for decomposing a decision into its essential elements. We first engaged stakeholders in clarifying regional salt marsh decision problems, defining objectives and attributes to evaluate whether objectives are achieved, and developing a pool of alternative management actions for achieving objectives. Through this process, we identified salt marsh attributes that were applicable to monitoring National Wildlife Refuges on a regional scale and that targeted management needs. We then analyzed management decisions within three salt marsh units at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, coastal Delaware, as a case example of prioritizing management alternatives. Values for salt marsh attributes were estimated from 2 years of baseline monitoring data and expert opinion. We used linear value modeling to aggregate multiple attributes into a single performance score for each alternative, constrained optimization to identify alternatives that maximized total management benefits subject to refuge-wide cost constraints, and used graphical analysis to identify the optimal set of alternatives for the refuge. SDM offers an efficient, transparent approach for integrating monitoring into management practice and improving the quality of management decisions.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Sarah Converse and Michael Runge for organizing and inviting our participation in the April 2008 SDM workshop that set the stage for this project; their leadership in applying SDM to natural resource management was instrumental in establishing project direction. We also thank Harold Laskowski and Janith Taylor for identifying the need to incorporate salt marsh assessments in NWRS management decisions and for actively participating in our SDM process to frame refuge salt marsh issues. We are grateful also to the other participants in the 2008 and 2012 workshops for their valuable time and expertise: Paul Castelli, Kelly Chadbourne, Bill Crouch, Susan Guiteras, Jeff Horan, Curt Kessler, Annabella Larsen, Roy Lowe, Ronald Thom, Bill Thompson, and Patrick Walther. The maps in Figs. 1 and 2 were expertly prepared by Toni Mikula and Susan Guiteras, respectively. This manuscript was greatly improved by the comments of Melinda Knutson and two anonymous reviewers. Funding was provided by the U.S. Geological Survey Refuge Cooperative Research Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region. The findings and conclusions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Use of trade, product, or firm names does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to Hilary A. Neckles.

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Communicated by Iris C. Anderson

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Neckles, H.A., Lyons, J.E., Guntenspergen, G.R. et al. Use of Structured Decision Making to Identify Monitoring Variables and Management Priorities for Salt Marsh Ecosystems. Estuaries and Coasts 38, 1215–1232 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-014-9822-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-014-9822-5

Keywords

  • Decision analysis
  • Salt marsh
  • Ecosystem monitoring
  • Environmental management
  • Measurable attributes
  • National Wildlife Refuge