Science today is changing ecosystem protection and restoration in much the same way that modern science has revolutionized how doctors practice medicine. In both realms, the change is from an experience-based process to one supported by large amounts of scientifically generated information. Just as doctors now have vast amounts of scientific evidence at their fingertips to help them design the best available treatments, conservation managers and decision makers have sound scientific information to help guide their actions.
|Spotted Towhee, a focal species in PRBO's Riparian Bird Conservation Plan, is included in a PRBO habitat-mapping tool that you can view at www.prbo.org/cadc/lip. Photo © Tom Grey.|
As information about ecosystem processes accrues, identifying the most effective ways to deliver the relevant knowledge to decision makers becomes ever more important. Powerful new products are emerging that help land managers and policy makers incorporate scientific evidence into the decision-making process.
We use the term "decision support tools" to refer to a range of printed documents (examples are illustrated on page 7) and computer-based sources of information that help people understand how different choices will influence the natural resources they manage. By providing land managers with decision support tools, PRBO aims to help them apply limited financial and logistical resources as effectively as possible.
A prime example is our work with the California Department of Fish and Game's Landowner Incentive Program. This program supports on-the-ground projects that enhance, protect, or restore habitats that benefit "special-status" species (see note on page 4) on privately owned lands in the Central Valley. To effectively administer the program, managers need up-to-date information about the priority habitats for special-status bird species and the locations where restoration has the greatest potential to benefit native wildlife.
PRBO biologists have developed an interactive map of avian habitat suitability for the Central Valley that helps program managers choose projects with the greatest biological benefits. This new mapping tool, based on data collected for PRBO projects such as Avian Monitoring on Private Lands, can be viewed online at www.prbo.org/cadc/lip.
To improve decision support, PRBO biologists recently surveyed restoration practitioners, public and private land managers, and policy makers about the types of information they use and need. Respondents are already using a wide variety of PRBO tools, but they expressed a need for one-on-one interactions with biologists. We now are developing opportunities for land managers to work with our biologists, to refine and fully implement decision support tools.
To heal and protect damaged ecosystems, managers need information that can help them take the best course of action. Providing decision support tools is one way that PRBO Conservation Science works to ensure that decisions are based on sound science—and that conservation and restoration efforts are effective and efficient.