Scenario planning is a structured process that embraces uncertainty and explores plausible alternative future conditions under different assumptions to help manage risk and prioritize actions ( Schwartz 1996, Peterson et al. 2003). It has been used by a variety of organizations to explore and help prepare for the future, lends itself well to exploring the uncertainty surrounding changing environmental conditions, and is widely applicable to natural resource management issues. The conservation and management of protected resources for example, can be particularly challenging when the rate and magnitude of climate-related changes, and the response of species to those changes, are uncertain (NMFS 2016). The structured process of scenario planning can help resource managers navigate through potentially paralyzing uncertainties, manage risk, and evaluate/prioritize management actions associated with adapting to, and managing for, climate change (Moore et al. 2013).
Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) is a species highly vulnerable to climate change in the Northeast Atlantic (Hare et al. 2016a). Based on this and the above reasons, a scenario planning initiative was piloted by NOAA Fisheries to explore what the agency can do to improve U.S.Atlantic salmon population resilience to changing climate conditions in riverine, estuarine(transition), and marine environments across its current range (U.S. headwaters to Greenland). Project objectives were: 1) to better understand the challenges of managing Atlantic salmon in a changing climate; 2) to identify and discuss potential management actions and research activities that can be undertaken to increase our understanding of the drivers of Atlantic salmon productivity and resilience; 3) to increase collaborations and coordination related to the speciesrecovery; and 4) to explore how scenario planning can be used to support decisions.
Outcomes from this initiative included, but were not limited to, the identification of high priority research and management actions to further collaborations and efforts to recover this species. The identified high priority actions were those that could be undertaken in the near-term(1-5 years) using current resources and in consideration of potential future conditions. Examples of identified actions by habitat (not in order of priority) included: 1) synthesize and refine range-wide life stage specific quantitative environmental thresholds for temperature, flow, etc.; 2) assess watershed habitat productivity; 3) assess forage fish and survival connection and options for marine migration monitoring; and 4) reduce dam-associated indirect estuarine mortality rate. In addition, a number of high priority climate-related actions were included in the revised Atlantic Salmon Recovery Plan (USFWS and NMFS 2019, Appendix 16) and at least two newly NOAA Fisheries funded projects are now underway (1. conduct range-wide habitat analysis and synthesize life stage specific quantitative thresholds and 2. identify locations of cold water refugia under a changing climate).
This is the first use of the scenario planning process (NPS 2013) by NOAA Fisheries. This report documents an important example of applying scenario planning to marine species/environments and may serve as a useful reference for other case studies.