A keynote panel opened the workshop, which included Suzette Kimball, acting director, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS); Steven Ellis, deputy director, Bureau of Land Management (BLM); and Ann Bartuska, deputy undersecretary for research, education, and economics, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The panel provided a multi-agency perspective on the need for decision-oriented approaches to natural resource management. Dr. Kimball stated the importance of addressing multiple facets of natural resource management and applying decision-oriented science, which is a strategic direction for the USGS looking forward. The multiple facets of natural resource management require working across many disciplines and understanding the potential social and economic impacts to humans. Dr. Kimball said that understanding how to incorporate the human dimension is a central concept to using a landscape approach, and requires recognition that the human dimension is part of the biological underpinning of natural systems.
Department of the Interior Secretarial Order Number 3330 addresses and highlights the importance of applying a landscape-scale approach in evaluating alternative decisions affecting the management and conservation of the nation’s natural resources.1 The USGS has long developed resource assessments of energy and mineral resources and monitored water and biological resources. Decision tools developed from these efforts have benefited federal, state, and other resource managers, decision makers, and policy makers. As natural resources become more constrained, decision makers increasingly demand more sophisticated products
1 Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell issued Secretarial Order Number 3330 “Improving Mitigation Policies and Practices of the Department of the Interior” in October 2013.
that describe interrelationships among multiple resources, consider ecosystem services, and evaluate outcomes in biophysical and socioeconomic terms. To address these needs, the USGS is developing multi-resource analysis (MRA), a next-generation product intended to add to, but not replace, existing resource assessments.
Multi-resource analysis has three key components. First, it integrates baseline information across multiple natural resources, which can incorporate the consideration of impacts and tradeoffs at landscape scales for a suite of natural resources, including the potential socioeconomic impacts. Secondly, it explicitly considers change, such as how climate change, urbanization, or extraction of a natural resource may affect other multiple natural resource conditions. It can examine the impacts of a natural resource from the disturbance of another resource in biophysical and socioeconomic terms. Thirdly, specific scenarios are developed and evaluated, which help to examine how multiple natural resources are affected by different decisions. Dr. Kimball stated that the USGS is moving forward with MRA as a new concept that builds on ongoing integrated scientific work and advances decision making. This Academies’ workshop, she said, is timely and important because MRA is still in a proof-of-concept development phase and the workshop helps ensure that a community of resource managers, decision makers, and science providers are moving forward in an appropriate way.
The USGS is developing MRA through collaborations with universities, other agencies, and multiple stakeholders in order to gain a better understanding of the nation’s natural resources and how the benefits of these natural resources will be affected by change, whether by natural events or by political, societal, and managerial decisions. Dr. Kimball framed these challenges in the form of questions that USGS and others are addressing:
- How can change be effectively considered and incorporated into decision-related products? How are the impacts of land use and climate change, urbanization, and resource extraction across multiple natural resources expressed?
- How can the interrelationships across multiple natural resources be described? Can a functional relationship be developed that quantifies the impacts to multiple natural resources from a disturbance to one of those resources?
- How can the consequences to humans, along with biophysical consequences, be more fully considered? To what extent can diverse impacts across multiple natural resources be valued so that comparisons and tradeoffs are considered?
- How should scenarios be identified and what types of scenarios are most useful to decision makers? To what extent should future resource assessment products include scenario analysis?
Mr. Ellis shared his perspective from 35 years of government service. As a forest supervisor for the Freemont-Winema and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests, Mr. Ellis was a decision maker with direct experience writing and executing land use plans. The BLM, Mr. Ellis explained, is an agency that is 200 years old with 245 million acres of public land and until the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), the BLM did not engage in land-use planning. The goal until then, after the national parks and forests were delineated, was primarily to dispose of the lands to private owners for development. With the introduction of FLPMA, land-use plans were developed, but not by using a landscape-based approach. Generally, he said, they followed the administrative boundary of a park or forest.
The scope of early land use planning primarily focused on allocating resources, determining right of ways for power lines, determining locations for livestock grazing, and managing timber. These early land-use plans did not have ecological or social elements. In time, the BLM issued more comprehensive land-use plans, engaged with the public, and allowed more public input. Mr. Ellis said the BLM now engages the public collaboratively upfront during development of a land use plan. The BLM has also begun focusing on resource and science-based decisions to align land-use planning with multiple-use goals and sustained yield, which is the use of resources for the benefit of all in a manner that would not impair the resources’ future productivity. Land-use planning was no longer within one administrative unit at the BLM, but was taking on a landscape-based approach.
Mr. Ellis said the need for moving across political and administrative boundaries was driven by the recognition that resources, such as wildlife, crossed such boundaries and needed to be managed more holistically. For example, the BLM, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, recently developed a series of environmental impact statements (EIS) to incorporate greater sage-grouse conservation measures into BLM land-use plans. These EISs focus on priority habitat with the highest value to maintaining sage-grouse habitat. Moving forward, the BLM is implementing Planning 2.0, which increases public participation in the development of BLM’s Resource Management Plans and seeks to move beyond jurisdictional boundaries to better manage resources. The BLM is also seeking collaborations with other agencies to better incorporate science into land-use planning. The BLM does not have a science branch, and looks to the USGS and Fish and Wildlife Service to provide the scientific foundations needed for improved decision making.
Dr. Bartuska offered that in developing and implementing land-use plans, the scale of analysis must be commensurate with the scale of the decision. It is important to connect an analysis to the practical dynamics of a decision, such as regulatory or legal considerations. The USDA, she said, has moved to 21st century conservation, which addresses conservation at the landscape scale by entering into partnerships and using actionable science. The USDA is continually
developing innovative solutions to conservation across public and private lands. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Landscape Conservation Initiatives are a great example of such efforts, she said. The Landscape Conservation Initiatives were established under the 2008 Farm Bill, and aim to accelerate results from voluntary conservation programs. The programs are primarily driven by grassroots input and local needs, and seek to enhance locally driven processes to better address nationally important conservation goals.
The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative, Dr. Bartuska said, is an example of an innovative solution to conservation. The program is implemented through the NRCS and is designed to work with producers and landowners to implement voluntary conservation practices that improve water quality, restore wetlands, enhance wildlife habitat, and sustain agricultural profitability in the Mississippi River Basin; however, these goals are accomplished by focusing not on the whole basin but on targeted watersheds within the larger Basin. Dr. Bartuska said that improving management practices in targeted watersheds has a large influence over the overall health of the Mississippi River Basin.
Monitoring to assess progress on improving water quality occurs at three scales. Water quality monitoring at the edge of fields assesses how practices influence nutrient loading at the local scale, monitoring in the main stream of the Mississippi assesses the impact on water quality on a large scale and essentially aggregates results from across many fields, and monitoring across time can provide the long-term trajectory of water quality improvements in the Mississippi River Basin. Dr. Bartuska highlighted the importance of the scale of the assessment, and assessing where in practice the decisions are made and at what level are key aspects to a successful program. It is also important to include the social context in the decision-making process. In 2010, there were approximately 800 watershed councils within the Mississippi River Basin, which are private entities composed of stakeholders that function as the governance system. Any conservation program or management practice being implemented at the watershed level will need buy-in from these stakeholders.
Part of the challenge of using any landscape- or multiple resource analysis-based approach is the complexity of landscapes that need to be integrated into a holistic picture. An actively managed landscape, such as an agricultural region or forest, will have elements of natural landscapes embedded but will also have societal influences acting on the decision-making process. It is critical for the decision to be science-informed and for an analysis to cut across many scales while acquiring the data necessary to support meaningful decision making, Dr. Bartuska said. The Agriculture Research Service has developed the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) Network, which links university partners to approximately 23 benchmark experimental watersheds that collect long-term data on agricultural sustainability, climate change, ecosystem services, and natural resource conservation at the landscape scale. The LTAR Network allows for more extensive
analysis and utilization of a vast collection of data, and will help guide decisions that are needed on the management of natural resources.
As Dr. Bartuska explained, the U.S. Forest Service developed the Watershed Condition Framework Process, which establishes a new process for improving the health of watersheds on national forests and grasslands. The Watershed Condition Framework Process facilitates new investments in watershed restoration in a way that intends to provide more economic and environmental benefits to local communities. The process is akin to adaptive management at the watershed scale, and is transferable across agencies and organizations (Figure 2-1). Dr. Bartuska explained that Step D in Figure 2-1 (Implement Integrated Projects) helps provide consistency across planning units and creates the basis for developing projects. Steps E and F, she explained, are the most important because they address tracking and reporting on restoration accomplishments through monitoring. These
FIGURE 2-1 Watershed Condition Framework Process.
SOURCE: Ann Bartuska, Presentation, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Workshop, June 2, 2015, Washington, D.C.
steps provide the feedback necessary to adapt for the next cycle of developing watershed goals.
During the question-and-answer period, the panel was asked about how federal agencies manage collaborations that engage the local public where a decision may be implemented while also being responsive to national stakeholders. Mr. Ellis responded that it depends on the scale of the collaboration, and that most importantly the collaboration must have a clear mission. Collaborations are most successful when all parties agree on the goal from the outset. The BLM, for example, was successful in implementing travel management plans in eastern Oregon that focused on determining appropriate locations for the use of off-highway vehicles (OHV) by engaging the public locally and being clear that the mission was to protect the areas where OHV use was not appropriate.
Another question related to looking across academic studies for long-term research as a means of increasing replication for a given study and gaining greater insight into the data. Dr. Bartuska stated that two research sites in the LTAR Network are not federal facilities but are academic institutions. A challenge to long-term research, she added, is the difficulty in maintaining research for an extended period of time outside of the federal sector. One of the National Science Foundation-funded long-term ecological research sites (LTER), for example, has been in operation for 30 years and faces an ongoing challenge in maintaining and keeping the site operational. A different approach to meeting the same goal of cutting across academic and federal sectors to gain insight into available data is by keeping long-term sites in the federal system, but providing access to academic scientists.
Another dynamic of long-term research, Dr. Bartuska added, is the need for participatory research, where the public is brought into the design and implementation of research, and the monitoring and analysis of results. There are useful opportunities when there are controversial issues to expand the engagement to the public rather than keeping it in the scientific space, and long-term research sites could allow for that opportunity. Paul Sandifer echoed the support for greater participation of the public into scientific research projects. He commented that there has been a political backlash against supporting social science in decision making, and that there instead should be expanding support for the social sciences that in turn supports science-based decision-making processes that directly affect natural resource management.
The panelists were asked to describe challenges with interagency collaborations and in engaging stakeholders, and also about the need to strengthen capacity within agencies to engage stakeholders on a sustained basis. Dr. Bartuska responded that within USDA, there are Forest Service-related committees but also agriculture-related committees, which creates an internal division that separates regulatory- and appropriation-related activities. It is unlikely for that structure to change, so the challenge is in bridging those internal divisions in order to execute
effective collaborations. Breaking down institutional barriers, Dr. Bartuska said, is the largest challenge; however, eliminating those barriers so that personnel can work across agency boundaries to share resources and budgets would have a significant impact on more effectively executing interagency collaborations. She added that agencies should also have stakeholder engagement programs, and highlighted the Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) program within the NRCS as an example. The RC&D program funded local volunteer councils that helped communities to protect and develop their economic, natural, and social resources while also improving their area’s economy, environment, and quality of life. This program focused mostly on private lands, and focused an NRCS employee on helping to write grants that would build a network to meet the needs of the local community. The program was successful because it capitalized on local leadership and knowledge; however, they were unfunded nearly three years ago. Since then, she added, successful partnership-based programs have emerged in various forms that seemingly use the same model. It is the local leader who, when supplied with the right resources, can bring together a successful network.
Mr. Ellis said that he has not had a challenge working across agencies when there are enough similarities between mission areas. For example, he described the Forest Service and BLM as having similar structure, legal mandates, and land they manage. Mr. Ellis said that the best collaboration he experienced was in Wallowa County, Oregon, which was a collaboration that included the general public, the Nez Perce Tribe, Oregon State University Extension, county government agencies, and the livestock industry. Mr. Ellis said that in over six years of being involved with the collaboration, there was never an issue they were not able to work through because of the leaders involved in the collaboration. They were dedicated to the collaboration and were able to set aside personal agendas in order to focus and achieve common goals. An agency’s capacity for stakeholder engagement, he added, often depends on the timeframe. The BLM implemented plans under court-ordered timelines, which were too restrictive to appropriately engage stakeholders and made the implementation of the plans challenging.
Dr. Kimball commented that a challenge to collaborations is due to the many layers of an agency. Field scientists, she said, can have relationships with community and local groups that work very well, but as one moves up the layers of an agency, systemic barriers are added so that at the national headquarters level there are budgetary and political barriers that can disrupt those functional relationships. She highlighted a previous experience when USGS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) entered into a memorandum of understanding; however, it took three years to transfer funds from one agency to another. The scientists at the local level had abandoned the collaboration by finding ways to work around the agreement in order to accomplish the work they had set out to do. The budget process, she said, is often the single most important
barrier to collaborations. Several agencies may be interested in collaborating on a project and each will put in their respective budget requests, but only one of the agencies will receive the funding requested. Often different agencies are reviewed by different Office of Management and Budget (OMB) examiners, therefore requiring that different avenues be taken in order to receive the necessary funding. Dr. Kimball said this adds levels of complexity and delays in implementing multi-agency collaborations.