Coastal wetlands are rich and diverse ecosystems with a wide variety of birdlife and other natural resources. Decision making for coastal wetland management is difficult given the complex nature of these ecological systems and the frequent need to meet multiple objectives for varied resources. Management challenges in the coastal zone are exacerbated by uncertainty about sea level rise and impacts on infrastructure, particularly the levees and structures which provide managers the ability to manipulate water levels in managed wetlands and create high quality habitat for birds and other wildlife. The most challenging decisions in coastal wetland management involve resource allocation for habitat manipulations and longer-term investments to maintain management control in wetlands that are increasingly compromised by sea level rise and increasing storm frequency and intensity associated with a changing climate.
We used multi-criteria decision analysis to create a resource allocation framework for managed wetlands that identifies the most effective and efficient management strategies that are robust to uncertainty about sea level rise. The prototype framework includes a small number of managed wetlands, for which subject matter experts articulated potential management and restoration actions. The consequences of these actions were predicted using expert elicitation with the subject matter experts; furthermore, expert judgment was used to articulate expected outcomes with two hypotheses about the rate of sea level rise. We used a constrained optimization (integer linear programming) to find optimal resource allocation strategies given a range of budget constraints; we also used a Pareto efficiency analysis for a graphical solution to the problem if the exact budget constraint is not known. Finally, given the importance of preference weights in a multi-criteria decision analysis, we also evaluated sensitivity to objective weights. With this resource allocation framework, we showed how to identify optimal combinations of management and restoration actions to maximize benefits in terms of stated objectives. We show how multiple working hypotheses about sea level rise can be incorporated into decisions for coastal wetland management. Our resource allocation approach can be modified for a wide variety of natural resource management settings.