We used a structured decision-making approach to inform the decision of whether the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission should request of the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team that additional whooping crane chicks be released into the Florida Non-Migratory Population (FNMP). Structured decision-making is an application of decision science that strives to produce transparent, replicable, and defensible decisions that recognize the appropriate roles of management policy and science in decision-making. We present a multi-objective decision framework, where management objectives include successful establishment of a whooping crane population in Florida, minimization of costs, positive public relations, information gain, and providing a supply of captive-reared birds to alternative crane release projects, such as the Eastern Migratory Population. We developed models to predict the outcome relative to each of these objectives under 29 different scenarios of the release methodology used from 1993 to 2004, including options of no further releases and variable numbers of releases per year over the next 5-30 years. In particular, we developed a detailed set of population projection models, which make substantially different predictions about the probability of successful establishment of the FNMP. We used expert elicitation to develop prior model weights (measures of confidence in population model predictions); the results of the population model weighting and modelaveraging exercise indicated that the probability of successful establishment of the FNMP ranged from 9% if no additional releases are made, to as high as 41% with additional releases. We also used expert elicitation to develop weights (relative values) on the set of identified objectives, and we then used a formal optimization technique for identifying the optimal decision, which considers the tradeoffs between objectives. The optimal decision was identified as release of 3 cohorts (24 birds) per year over the next 10 years. However, any decision that involved release of 1-3 cohorts (8-24 birds) per year over the next 5 to 20 years, as well as decisions that involve skipping releases in every other year, performed better in our analysis than the alternative of no further releases. These results were driven by the relatively high objective weights that experts placed on the population objective (i.e., successful establishment of the FNMP) and the information gain objective (where releases are expected to accelerate learning on what was identified as a primary uncertainty: the demographic performance of wild-hatched birds). Additional considerations that were not formally integrated into the analysis are also discussed.
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Other Government Series
Releases of whooping cranes to the Florida nonmigratory flock: a structured decision-making approach: report to the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, September 22, 2008