New Study Uses Decision Science to Support the Planning-to-Implementation Process for Compensatory Mitigation
A new article by 2015-2016 Global Change Fellow and NCSU Research Associate Georgina Sanchez and others, Integrating principles and tools of decision science into value-driven watershed planning for compensatory mitigation has recently been published in the journal Ecological Applications. USGS Research Ecologist Mitchell Eaton and SE CASC Faculty Affiliate Ross Meentemeyer are co-authors to the paper.
As climate change, urban development, and resource extraction alter the landscape and cause environmental harm, decision-makers are tasked with reversing damages through environmental policies such as the Clean Water Act, which requires compensatory mitigation to restore the function of habitat lost to development. Compensatory mitigation is the process of establishing, restoring, enhancing, and/or preserving the physical, chemical, and biological processes of natural resources. However, policy involving compensatory mitigation is hindered by the shortfalls of inadequate decision-making. In a recent study, 2015-2016 Global Change Fellow and Research Associate in the Center for Geospatial Analytics Georgina Sanchez, USGS Research Ecologist Mitchell Eaton, SE CASC Faculty Affiliate Ross Meentemeyer, and others tackle these pitfalls through the creation of a real-world decision framework.
Sanchez et al. followed a structured decision-making process as they partnered with experts from the North Carolina Division of Mitigation Services (NCDMS) to co-develop a decision framework to prioritize areas for compensatory mitigation efforts. This decision framework not only serves as a guide for compensatory mitigation prioritization in North Carolina but also the prioritization of other compensatory mitigation areas and restoration activities across the nation.
Five domain experts from the NCDMS were chosen as participants of this study to represent the agency and its role as the sole decision-making entity of compensatory mitigation actions across NC. The research team worked with the experts to identify and refine elements of the decision process/framework, define and convert NCDMS values to quantifiable factors, and outline problems and potential strategies. They also developed an interactive tool for rapid assessment of tradeoffs on various prioritization strategies. Over many iterations, foundational elements were updated, and complexity and realism were added to the decision process. “It was very gratifying to see that the process of using a structured decision-making framework was well embraced by the DMS team. And because this is an iterative process, it provided the opportunity to forge a strong partnership. I am confident that we will continue collaborating in the future,” says Sanchez.
“It was very gratifying to see that the process of using a structured decision-making framework was well embraced by the DMS team. And because this is an iterative process, it provided the opportunity to forge a strong partnership. I am confident that we will continue collaborating in the future.” – Dr. Georgina Sanchez
By partnering with the North Carolina Division of Mitigation Services (NCDMS) and collaborating with USGS and NC State University researchers, Sanchez et al. created a real-world decision framework to prioritize areas for compensatory mitigation efforts. This study not only provides an applicable decision framework for prioritizing mitigation, conservation, and restoration but also exemplifies the benefits of research-management partnerships producing true actionable science.
The study, “Integrating principles and tools of decision science into value-driven watershed planning for compensatory mitigation,” was published online October 21, 2022, in Ecological Applications. Authors are Georgina M. Sanchez, Mitchell J. Eaton, Ana. M. Garcia, Jennifer Keisman, Kirsten Ullman, James Blackwell, Ross K. Meentemeyer.
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Note to Editors: The abstract follows.
“Integrating principles and tools of decision science into value-driven watershed planning for compensatory mitigation”
Authors: Georgina M. Sanchez, Mitchell J. Eaton, Ana. M. Garcia, Jennifer Keisman, Kirsten Ullman, James Blackwell, Ross K. Meentemeyer
Abstract: Several environmental policies strive to restore impaired ecosystems and could benefit from a consistent and transparent process — co-developed with key stakeholders — to prioritize impaired ecosystems for restoration activities. The Clean Water Act, for example, establishes reallocation mechanisms to transfer ecosystem services from sites of disturbance to compensation sites to offset aquatic resource functions that are unavoidably lost through land development. However, planning for the prioritization of compensatory mitigation areas is often hampered by decision-making processes that fall into a myopic decision frame because they are not co-produced with stakeholders. In this study, we partnered with domain experts from the North Carolina Division of Mitigation Services (NCDMS) to co-develop a real-world decision framework to prioritize catchments by potential for the development of mitigation projects following principles of a structured decision-making process and knowledge co-production. Following an iterative decision analysis cycle, domain experts revised foundational components of the decision framework and progressively added complexity and realism as they gained additional insights or more information became available. Through the course of facilitated in- person and remote interactions, the co-development of a decision framework produced three main ‘breakthroughs’ from the perspective of the stakeholder group: a) recognition of the problem as a multi-objective decision driven by several values in addition to biogeophysical goals (e.g., functional uplift; restoring or enhancing lost functionality of ecosystems), b) that the decision comprises a linked and sequential planning-to-implementation process, and c) future risk associated with land-use and climate change must be considered. We also present an interactive tool for ‘on-the-fly’ assessment of alternatives and tradeoff analysis, allowing domain experts to quickly test, react to, and revise prioritization strategies. The decision framework described in this study is not limited to the prioritization of compensatory mitigation activities across North Carolina, but rather serves as a framework to prioritize a wide range of restoration, conservation, and resource allocation activities in similar environmental contexts across the nation.