A decision-analytic approach to the optimal allocation of resources for endangered species consultation

Biological Conservation

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The resources available to support conservation work, whether time or money, are limited. Decision makers need methods to help them identify the optimal allocation of limited resources to meet conservation goals, and decision analysis is uniquely suited to assist with the development of such methods. In recent years, a number of case studies have been described that examine optimal conservation decisions under fiscal constraints; here we develop methods to look at other types of constraints, including limited staff and regulatory deadlines. In the US, Section Seven consultation, an important component of protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, requires that federal agencies overseeing projects consult with federal biologists to avoid jeopardizing species. A benefit of consultation is negotiation of project modifications that lessen impacts on species, so staff time allocated to consultation supports conservation. However, some offices have experienced declining staff, potentially reducing the efficacy of consultation. This is true of the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Washington Fish and Wildlife Office (WFWO) and its consultation work on federally-threatened bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus). To improve effectiveness, WFWO managers needed a tool to help allocate this work to maximize conservation benefits. We used a decision-analytic approach to score projects based on the value of staff time investment, and then identified an optimal decision rule for how scored projects would be allocated across bins, where projects in different bins received different time investments. We found that, given current staff, the optimal decision rule placed 80% of informal consultations (those where expected effects are beneficial, insignificant, or discountable) in a short bin where they would be completed without negotiating changes. The remaining 20% would be placed in a long bin, warranting an investment of seven days, including time for negotiation. For formal consultations (those where expected effects are significant), 82% of projects would be placed in a long bin, with an average time investment of 15. days. The WFWO is using this decision-support tool to help allocate staff time. Because workload allocation decisions are iterative, we describe a monitoring plan designed to increase the tool's efficacy over time. This work has general application beyond Section Seven consultation, in that it provides a framework for efficient investment of staff time in conservation when such time is limited and when regulatory deadlines prevent an unconstrained approach. ?? 2010.

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Journal Article
A decision-analytic approach to the optimal allocation of resources for endangered species consultation
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Biological Conservation
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Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
11 p.
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