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Using Structured Decision Making to Help Implement a Precautionary Approach to Endangered Species Management


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Endangered species protection is a significant risk management concern throughout North America. An extensive conceptual literature emphasizes the role to be played by precautionary approaches. Risk managers, typically working in concert with concerned stakeholders, frequently cite the concept as key to their efforts to prevent extinctions. Little has been done, however, to evaluate the multidimensional impacts of precautionary frameworks or to assist in the examination of competing precautionary risk management options as part of an applied risk management decision framework. In this article we describe how decision-aiding techniques can assist in the creation and analysis of alternative precautionary strategies, using the example of a multistakeholder committee charged with protection of endangered Cultus Lake salmon on the Canadian west coast. Although managers were required to adopt a precautionary approach, little attention had been given to how quantitative analyses could be used to help define the concept or to how a precautionary approach might be implemented in the face of difficult economic, social, and biological tradeoffs. We briefly review key steps in a structured decision-making (SDM) process and discuss how this approach was implemented to help bound the management problem, define objectives and performance measures, develop management alternatives, and evaluate their consequences. We highlight the role of strategy tables, employed to help participants identify, alternative management options. We close by noting areas of agreement and disagreement among participants and discuss the implications of decision-focused processes for other precautionary resource management efforts.