(BOZEMAN - July 15, 2014) A new publication from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) illustrates that one way to make pro-active decisions in conservation and natural–resource planning today is to consider various scenarios that may unfold tomorrow.

Conservation professionals face many challenges due to changes in climate, land use, invasive species, biodiversity, and more. These changes interact in complex ways and can result in unknowns that complicate natural resource decision-making. To achieve desired conservation and land-use outcomes, tools are needed to cope with these uncertainties.

Considering Multiple Futures: Scenario Planning to Address Uncertainty in Natural Resource Conservation, demonstrates that scenario planning is such a tool.

In scenario planning, multiple future scenarios are developed and an evaluation of the potential effects of those scenarios on a resource or system is undertaken. Responses under each scenario are then identified. Some of those responses are implemented to address current circumstances, while others are aimed at anticipated future conditions. Monitoring is a key component for identifying what actions to take and when.

For example, the Peninsular Florida LCC, USFWS, USGS, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and other partners in southern Florida have engaged in a series of scenario planning efforts, each building off the other, aimed at developing and testing policies and plans, as well as implementing management actions for terrestrial and marine systems. Drivers of change have included factors such as sea level rise, human population growth, land use policies, the availability of conservation resources, recreational and commercial fishing, and tourism. Coastal managers have developed actions and identified the triggers for taking them that are linked to future climate and socioeconomic conditions for key species, like spiny lobster and their associated mangrove habitat.

The PFLCC plans to use the statewide scenarios for an impact assessment of 4-6 different species and habitats to develop strategies that will lead to a landscape conservation design. FWCC and the PFLCC plan to engage stakeholders in a regional scenario planning effort in the Big Bend region of Florida to develop adaptation strategies for both state and federal land managers.

The authors of the new guide are Erika L. Rowland and Molly S. Cross of WCS, and Holly Hartmann of the University of Arizona, Tucson. The guide’s development team was Kurt Johnson and Donna Brewer of the USFWS, Richard Sojda and Kathryn Irvine of the U.S. Geological Service, and Michelle Haynes of USFWS (currently with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

By providing managers with a look at how the future may unfold, say the authors, and how to respond, scenario planning can inform decision-making in light of uncertainties. With a familiarity with those uncertainties, managers are better able to manage risk and maintain flexibility.

“Working on this project has been an invaluable opportunity to learn how scenario planning has and can continue to inform decision-making around climate and other drivers of landscape change,” said co-author and WCS Climate Change Ecologist Erika Rowland. “It’s shown itself to be a very powerful tool.”

Kurt Johnson, National Climate Change Scientist of USFWS added, “We are excited over the publication of Considering Multiple Futures, because we are convinced that scenario planning can be an invaluable tool for exploring possible futures under climate and land use change, and planning for the impacts of those and other stressors. Natural resources planners around the continent will find the guide extremely useful for that purpose.”

The guide presents scenario planning concepts and approaches focused on applications in natural resource management and conservation. It is intended to help natural resource and conservation professionals, including managers, planners, and researchers to:
  • Understand the core elements of scenario planning;
  • Identify situations for which scenario planning can be a valuable tool, and why it’s different from other decision support frameworks;
  • Understand the range of options for implementing scenario planning and identify approaches that fit their needs;
  • Get started on their own scenario planning effort; and 
  • Find additional resources to support the application of a given scenario planning approach.
  • Additionally, the guide provides examples of scenario planning use in considering the effects of climate change on conservation goals and actions in conservation management across North America, including 12 contributed case studies. 

WCS North America Program Climate Change Adaptation Coordinator Molly Cross said, "Individuals from a number of state and federal agencies, academic institutions, and NGOs contributed to the guide, helping us maximize its practical value for use by conservation practitioners. We hope that this guide will help more people understand what scenario planning is, how it can benefit their work, and get started tackling the difficult challenge of managing and conserving wildlife, wild places and important natural resources in an era of climate change."

Funding for the project was provided by USFWS through the Landscape Conservation Cooperative Program.

To access a pdf of the guide, please click here

For further information on this story or to speak with the scientists involved, please contact Scott Smith at 718-220-3698 or email ssmith@wcs.org.

Scott Smith – 718-220-3698 ; ssmith@wcs.org
Stephen Sautner – 718-220-3682 ; ssautner@wcs.org
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. VISION: WCS envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in more than 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: www.wcs.org and www.wcs-heal.org; follow: @theWCS.