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Informing Conservation Management Decision-Making at Coastal National Wildlife Refuges

Understanding Conservation Management Decisions in the Face of Sea-Level Rise Along the U.S. Atlantic Coast

Dates

Start Date
2013-10-01
End Date
2014-09-30
Release Date
2013

Summary

Coastal National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) provide a myriad of beneficial services, including buffering storm surge, improving water quality, supporting commercial fisheries, and providing habitat for imperiled wildlife and plants. Yet in the last century, coastal ecosystems in the eastern U.S. have been severely altered by human development activities as well as sea-level rise and more frequent extreme events related to climate change. These influences threaten the goods and services provided by NWRs and pose decision-making challenges for refuge managers. The purpose of this project was to explore how structured decision-making – a formal, systematic method for analyzing decisions – could help NWR staff make informed choices about [...]

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by Mitch Eaton 1000x750.jpg
“East Coast - Credit: Mitch Eaton”
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“East Coast Beach - Credit: Mitch Eaton”
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SE-2013-8_LowerSuwanneeNWR_AlanCressler.jpg
“Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge - Credit: Alan Cressler”
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SE-2013-8_SavannahRiverNWR_AlanCressler.jpg
“Savannah River National Wildlife Refuge - Credit: Alan Cressler”
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SE-2013-8_St.MarksNWR_AlanCressler1.jpg
“St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge - Credit: Alan Cressler”
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“St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge - Credit: Alan Cressler”
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SE-2013-8_St.MarksNWR_forest_AlanCressler2.jpg
“St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge - Credit: Alan Cressler”
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SE-2013-8_St.MarksNWR_longleafpine_AlanCressler4.jpg
“St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge - Credit: Alan Cressler”
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SE-2013-8_St.MarksNWR_marsh_AlanCressler5.jpg
“St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge - Credit: Alan Cressler”
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Purpose

Coastal ecosystems in the eastern U.S. have been severely altered by processes associated with human development, including drainage of wetlands, changes in hydrology, land clearing, agricultural and forestry activity, and the construction of structures that “harden” the coast. Sea-level rise and the changing frequency of extreme events associated with climate change are now further degrading the capacity of those ecological and social systems to remain resilient. As custodians of ecological goods and services valued by society, coastal National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) have an especially important role to play in helping socio-ecological systems adapt to global-change processes. To help refuges address this challenge, we articulated a two-track decision problem faced by coastal refuge managers. The first track focuses on efficient allocation of limited staff time and budgets for management of existing programs under the current refuge design. The second track recognizes the negative impacts of global-change processes on the ability to maintain societal values derived from the existing refuge configuration. Over the long term, refuge managers must decide when and where to acquire or protect new land/habitat to supplement or replace the existing refuge footprint to sustain values as the system evolves over time. Each track suggests a unique set of alternatives to represent differences in the identity of the decision maker(s) and in the spatial, temporal and governance scales of the decision problem. We developed a prototype decision structure by describing how a hierarchical set of objectives and alternative actions can be used to explore the tradeoffs inherent in making short and long-term adaptation decisions. The prototype attempts to characterize a balance between decisions within the purview of the refuge itself and decisions made at higher organizational levels concerning reconfiguration of the refuge, which may be required to ensure the long-term persistence of societal values. This project is jointly supported by the Northeast Climate Science Center and the Southeast Climate Science Center.

Project Extension

projectStatusCompleted

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge - Credit: Alan Cressler
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge - Credit: Alan Cressler

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ScienceBase WMS

Communities

  • National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers
  • Northeast CASC
  • Southeast CASC

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