Preliminary assessment of opportunities and obstacles for climate information use in resource management decisions in the Southwest
Efforts to characterize the science needs of land managers as they develop strategies for addressing climate change challenges have increased considerably throughout the last decade. Addressing these needs; however, does not insure that the information scientists produce can or will be used by land managers for decision-making. We explored the use (and potential for use) of scientific information within the decision-making process governed by the United States National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) using a combination of consultative groups and web-based surveys. Specifically, we attempted to: a) characterize the use of scientific (especially climatic) information in NEPA, b) identify potential constraints on that use, and c) characterize variations in use among decisions and decision-makers. Survey data from public natural resource managers from across the Southwest was then used to train several machine learning-based discourse analysis algorithms (e.g., random forests, artificial neural networks, classification and regression trees) to identify distinct decision types based on the spatio-temporal scale of the landscape affected, primary resource objectives, and degree of climate information use. These algorithms were then used in conjunction with the planning databases from the United States Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service to characterize the frequency of occurrence of each decision type in an effort to characterize the “landscape of opportunity” for increased scientific information use within federal land management decision-making.
Preliminary results suggest that financial limitations constrain decisions more than lack of information, time, or political support. Interestingly, the majority of respondents felt climate change was relevant to the decision they described; however, less than half of the decisions analyzed the effects of climate change and even fewer used existing climate products. Significant variation exists amongst responses due to the spatio-temporal scale considered in the decision-making process, the role of the respondent in the decision, and the primary resource objectives considered in the planning process.