Turning Uncertainty into Useful Information for Conservation Decisions

Dr. Brian Irwin, USGS Georgia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Project Completion: June 2016. This project is now completed.
Implements Science Plan Theme: 1


We routinely encounter uncertainty when we make decisions – from picking a new morning coffee to choosing where to live. Even decisions that are supported by science contain some level of remaining uncertainty. In the context of conservation and wildlife management, the potential for uncertainty to influence decisions is perhaps most obvious when we think about predicting how actions (or non-actions) will have lasting impacts into the future. Our abilities to precisely predict future climatic and ecological conditions and determine the exact consequences of our actions are, and will remain, limited.

Conservation practitioners and land and wildlife managers must navigate these challenges to make science-informed decisions to advance conservation and adaptation of important natural resources.  The degree to which management objectives are successfully met can depend on 1) how critical uncertainties are identified and accounted for, and 2) effective communication among stakeholders, scientists, and natural resource managers. The objective of this project is to help facilitate strategic decision support and synthesize the state of the science related to communicating and using uncertain information in conservation decision making.

In February 2013, this project brought together scientists, decision makers, planners, and resource managers across universities and federal and state agencies for a workshop intended, in part, to identify research and strategic-planning needs for effective delivery of regional conservation policy, with an emphasis on providing science-based decision support in the presence of uncertainty and climate change.  The outcomes from this workshop, along with the products developed for the project, advance a decision-analytic perspective within the conservation community and will have practical use as decision support for conservation practitioners and decision makers.

A Fact Sheet summarizing information derived from the project can be accessed below.