Come Rain or Shine

Assessing Risk When Relocating Species

May 04, 2022 USDA Southwest Climate Hub & DOI Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center Season 3 Episode 5
Assessing Risk When Relocating Species
Come Rain or Shine
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Come Rain or Shine
Assessing Risk When Relocating Species
May 04, 2022 Season 3 Episode 5
USDA Southwest Climate Hub & DOI Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center

Continuing our series on managing for ecosystem transformation, we sit down with Dr. Mark Schwartz, a plant ecologist at UC Davis, and Aviv Karasov-Olson, a PhD candidate at UC Davis, to discuss a new tool for assessing the biotic risks associated with a managed relocation project (also referred to as assisted migration). Managed relocation is the act of deliberately relocating, or translocating, a species outside of its historic range to meet conservation goals, especially in response to climate change. Image credit: USFWS Midwest Region.

Relevant links:

National Park Service: Managed Relocation (Includes links to both the report and the worksheet described in this episode)

Karasov‐Olson, Aviv, et al. "Co‐development of a risk assessment strategy for managed relocation." Ecological Solutions and Evidence 2.3 (2021): e12092.

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Come Rain or Shine affiliate links:
DOI Southwest CASC:
USDA Southwest Climate Hub:
Sustainable Southwest Beef Project (NIFA Grant #2019-69012-29853): 

Show Notes Transcript

Continuing our series on managing for ecosystem transformation, we sit down with Dr. Mark Schwartz, a plant ecologist at UC Davis, and Aviv Karasov-Olson, a PhD candidate at UC Davis, to discuss a new tool for assessing the biotic risks associated with a managed relocation project (also referred to as assisted migration). Managed relocation is the act of deliberately relocating, or translocating, a species outside of its historic range to meet conservation goals, especially in response to climate change. Image credit: USFWS Midwest Region.

Relevant links:

National Park Service: Managed Relocation (Includes links to both the report and the worksheet described in this episode)

Karasov‐Olson, Aviv, et al. "Co‐development of a risk assessment strategy for managed relocation." Ecological Solutions and Evidence 2.3 (2021): e12092.

If you’re enjoying this podcast, please consider rating us and/or leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts, Podcast Addict, or Podchaser Thanks!

Follow us on Twitter @RainShinePod

Never miss an episode! Sign up to get an email alert whenever a new episode publishes

Have a suggestion for a future episode? Please tell us!

Come Rain or Shine affiliate links:
DOI Southwest CASC:
USDA Southwest Climate Hub:
Sustainable Southwest Beef Project (NIFA Grant #2019-69012-29853): 

Emile Elias: Welcome to Come Rain or Shine podcast of the USDA Southwest Climate Hub and the USGS Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center or Southwest CASC. I'm Sarah LeRoy, Science Applications and Communications Coordinator for the Southwest CASC. And I'm Emile Elias, Director of the Southwest Climate Hub. 

Here, we highlight stories to share the most recent advances in climate science, weather and climate adaptation and innovative practices to support resilient landscapes and community. We believe that sharing some of the most innovative forward thinking and creative climate science and adaptation will strengthen our collective ability to respond to even the most challenging impacts of climate change in one of the hottest and driest regions of the world.

Sarah LeRoy: The contents of this podcast are for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as endorsement for any of the products, technologies, or strategies discussed.

Today we are continuing our series on managing for ecosystem transformation by discussing the topic of assisted migration or sometimes referred to as managed relocation. This is the act of deliberately relocating or translocating a species that is at risk of extinction to locations with more favorable biotic or climatic conditions.

This type of management of species entails risks to both the species being moved, as well as the recipient ecosystems into which they are moved. We have briefly discussed this topic on our two previous episodes in the series, but we'd like to dig a little deeper today. We're talking with two researchers from University of California Davis who have worked with agency scientists and resource managers to develop a risk assessment framework to support managers making decisions about managed relocation.

Dr. Mark Schwartz is a plant ecologist at UC Davis and a co-principal investigator with the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center. Aviv Karasov-Olson is a PhD candidate at UC Davis whose research focuses on collaborative management of migratory waterfowl using a mix of qualitative social science and quantitative network analysis. Aviv and Mark, thank you so much for joining us today.

We'll get to the assessment framework in just a minute, but first we wanted to set the stage. So, could you give us some insight into the topic of managed relocation? For example, what circumstances might lead a manager to consider relocating a species outside of its historic range? Mark, why don't we start with you?

Mark Schwartz: Okay. Great. Well, thanks Sarah, for inviting us on, this is a pleasure to chat with you about this topic. I'll go back to what got me into this topic. I studied an endangered tree in the north end of Florida, Torreya taxifolia, and it's in all likelihood going to go extinct inside of its distribution.

And like a lot of species, the extinction risk is really a complex thing. It's a combination of changing climate and an introduced disease that wasn't native to the system. But the population is declining. And what has happened is a group of citizens who collected together under the Torreya Guardians, decided that they needed to move the species outside of its historic range for its conservation.

And they've done so, and so this is one of the reasons that we most prominently think of managed relocation is because of an extinction risk and often because of climate change, but there are other reasons to do this as well. So for example an awful lot of work now is going on with coral reefs.

And so, we all know that oceans are warming and that conditions are changing and that there's a lot of coral bleaching that coral bleaching is because those antheli aren't adapted to the warmer water. And so there's a lot of research now about how to drive evolution in those antheli or introducing those antheli from other places so that you can restore a coral reef and there it's really an ecosystem goal, isn't it?

That they want that structure of the ecosystem to persist so that the fish and the other things that are living on those reefs can persist. So you can have both species and ecosystem drivers. But often climate change is the fundamental driver. 

Sarah LeRoy: Thanks, Mark. Aviv, do you have anything to add? 

Aviv Karasov-Olson: Yeah. So I think sometimes we think about conservation of an entire species, but there are also instances where you may be interested in the conservation of a particular population or preventing extirpation.

So one example might be the giant Sequoia where on the whole, the entire species isn't necessarily at risk of extinction, but certainly natural groves are particularly with respect to reduced recruitment that may result from pronounced drought. So this is an instance where the species may be present in many other places across the globe, because it's a very popular tree to be planted in certain situations, but natural groves are more at risk.

And so there may be a reason to protect a particular population by moving it. And in some cases it may not just be climate change that could be a reason to consider managed relocation. So for example, the Guam Kingfisher is extinct in the wild due to threats of invasive species. So the introduced brown tree snake.

And this is an example where possibly the introduction of the Guam Kingfisher to nearby islands that are predator free, could be another use of this technique. 

Mark Schwartz: If I can add one more thing onto that is, is that we, in thinking about ecosystems, we have a lot of ecosystems that are changing and managers aren't entirely sure what to do about those changes.

So there's examples in the Northern latitudes, Alaska and Canada, mostly I'm thinking about, but where there's active discussion of saying, well, this kind of forest or this kind of, of wetland, isn't going to persist into the future. And in order to have a forest at all, we might need to bring the species that would be adapted to future climates.

And so it's an ecological replacement, a sort of motivation for managed relocation.

Sarah LeRoy: Excellent. Thank you. So now switching gears slightly to talk about the assessment framework that you developed. So Mark, could you give us kind of a high level overview of the framework, including the partners that were involved in the process?

Mark Schwartz: Yeah, sure. So, probably back in 2018 or 19, the Invasive Species Advisory committee took up this issue of managed relocation and they wanted to look at this from the perspective of invasive species and risks. So if we move species into new environments, what's the chance of them becoming invasive and causing adverse impacts in those recipient ecosystems.

And there was a meeting there, the National Park Service was involved with this and, and about a year or two later Cat Hawkins Hoffman, the leader of the National Parks Service Climate Change Program came to us and said that they wanted to follow up on that report that was done for the invasive species council and what they wanted was something that their managers could actually use.

They recognize that the IUCN guidelines that on translocation and the white paper that was produced out of Washington were great. And they said that this risk was important, but there wasn't enough detail in any of those things that a resource manager could pick it up and actually do something. And so this is what they were looking for.

And so we gathered together a group of people from the National Park Service. One of the things we wanted to do was to have resource managers from parks involved. And so we had a couple of those and then species specialists from their team. And we had a few of those. And then some university researchers.

So Julian Olden from the University of Washington and Jessica Hellman and Sarah Stickney from the University of Minnesota. And Aviv and I, we were the university team. We got together and started thinking about how we would expect a resource manager to assess risk in this and these complicated issues.

Sarah LeRoy: Thanks Mark. Aviv, could you tell us briefly about the major categories of risk that your team identified to be evaluated? 

Aviv Karasov-Olson: Absolutely. So I'll start by emphasizing that really what we wanted to target with this risk assessment were specifically ecological risks. So not necessarily considering risks of social unacceptability or things like that, but really focusing in on ecological risks.

So we divided the assessment up into six major categories. And each category is further subdivided into different risk criteria. The first one we addressed is actually the risk of no action. So the risk of not taking a managed relocation action. And this provided an opportunity to really assess a baseline of what would happen if an action weren't taken, compared to all of the subsequent categories which is looking at a risk associated with taking an action. And the second category focuses on risk to the target itself, whether this is a target species or population or individuals considering how the move would impact individuals in the population.

Whether that's the source population from which individuals are taking. And also the individuals that are moved after they are translocated. The third category is considering the risk to non target species in the recipient ecosystem. So here we're really getting at the risk to all of the other species within the area of the managed relocation.

And this includes things like the risk of transmitting a disease, the risk of negative competitive interactions, really at a species level. And then our fourth category is zooming out within the recipient ecosystem and looking at risks to higher order attributes. This could include things like impacts to the food web changes, impacts to ecosystem services.

Things like that. The fifth category of risk is essentially taking our understanding of risks to the recipient ecosystem and amplifying them and considering the risk of invasion. So this would be a situation where the translocated species actually becomes invasive. Within the recipient ecosystem sort of within the release location and beyond.

So what is the potential that this species could spread beyond that recipient location to a degree where it creates strongly negative impacts and whether or not that's a situation that could be reversed. And then our final category of risk is highlighting all of those potential negative interactions, but those associated with socioeconomic values.

So in this we're really targeting ecological risks to highly valued species or ecosystem functions within the recipient ecosystem. So is there a species of special concern? Is it economically valuable, socially valued? And highlighting those in particular so that when managers consider all of these negative interactions, there's a small incorporation of value when it comes to impacts to different species.

Emile Elias: Thanks, Aviv.. That was really comprehensive. And to build on that a little bit, it seems like some of the risks that you mentioned are a little at odds with each other. For example, the risk of a translocated species not surviving. And that would of course be a negative outcome, but also the risk of thriving so well that it becomes an invasive species of a concern or a problem.

So also a negative outcome. So I'm wondering how you advise national park managers and others to consider or plan for those risks and how that's incorporated. Yeah, that's a great question. I think incorporating all of those different outcomes, highlights the fact that any action can have an outcome that results along a spectrum.

Aviv Karasov-Olson: So there really is only this sort of narrow, optimal outcome of success where it's successful enough, but not too successful. And so I think highlighting all of these different possible outcomes really allows any decision maker to make the most informed decision with all of the information they have available, particularly when you're considering actions that may be particularly risky.

It helps to be as informed as possible and realize that there may be one perfect, optimal outcome and many possible negative outcomes, but being well-informed with that, I think helps people move forward and actually making a decision.

Emile Elias: Great. Thanks. That was a great answer. Both Sarah and I were smiling and nodding, and I'm really understanding what you were talking to us about that optimal range.

So I'm curious a bit about how the team developed the risk assessment strategy. And as I was thinking about this, I was thinking back to, you know, we've all been part of group projects in the past with varying levels of success. And this effort seems akin to a group project that includes scientists and resource managers tackling a really complex challenge of managed relocation and the decision space that you have there.

And so with this assessment method, your team decided to make it a structured process. But it wouldn't provide a formulaic decision output. And so I'm wondering how this group kind of went through the process, and then what was the reasoning for the outcome? And we'll start with Mark on this.

Mark Schwartz: It was a very deliberative process.

And I think it's helpful to think about the National Park Service here and their decision-making. So we have a National Park Service, which had a legacy of light touch management. The idea in the 1950 sixties and seventies was really that we'd like to keep our hands off nature and let it manage itself and try not to have that strong human influence on ecosystem outcomes. And of course there are exceptions to that with invasive species and things, but that's still in large part the mindset of the National Park Service. And yet they're recognizing that that has to change that there are, there's so much change going on to our ecosystems that are taking an active hand in management is really necessary.

And they were starting to be asked questions about participating in some of these active changes. So for example, the USGS posts to them that they move bull trout within Glacier National Park, from where it was and being impacted by non-native trout in streams up slope into formerly fishless lakes, where it wouldn't have these competitive interactions with the non-native trout.

And they did that action, but they started thinking that they needed to have some deliberative method for doing this and being able to document to the public and to themselves that they've been through a really thoughtful process that explored all of the pros and benefits and potential costs of taking a managed relocation action.

And so this is an effort to, to do that. And so we spent a lot of time talking about how this should be structured and then thinking about what are the different vectors or axes of risk as, Aviv has described. And then we also spend a lot of time thinking about what were other models for assessing risks, things like the APHIS and risk of using biological control agents.

And we spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of an assessment do resource managers want to use. And we came to the conclusion that we wanted something that was broad, that had lots of different categories. Didn't try and boil it down into a number and above all. Not to take the decision out of the hands of the decision maker, that if we were to get something that said, well, your index is 78.

And as a consequence of being 78, the answer is yes or no. Take your pick. That this just didn't, wasn't going to sit well with park service managers and probably wasn't realistic anyway. And so that was where we came to not having a formulaic output and well, how we ended up with what we've ended up with.

Emile Elias: Excellent. Thanks. I was about to ask how it was really designed not to be used, but I think you just answered that for me in terms of really having a deliberative process, but not narrowing down the information so much that it doesn't really make sense to people that have a deep understanding of the ecosystems they manage.

Would you like to add anything in terms of how it shouldn't be used? 

Mark Schwartz: Yeah. I mean, we really didn't want it to be formulaic that frankly, we couldn't figure out how to make it formulaic. So how do you balance the risk of say genetic loss in a species versus the potential of bringing in a novel disease into an ecosystem they're non commensurate.

So it's best to have these categories, but then even within those categories, I think the main goal was to encourage, or even force resource managers to go in with their eyes open. That they, they are comfortable with taking risks. They made that point over and over again. That's what their job is. And so, but they just want to be able to recognize the risk and they want to justify the risk that they take to their constituency.

And so the goal was mainly to be able to document this the best as possible, use the best available information and put it out there for that. Now we ended up with a lot of conversations about focus around this topic. Is this just for managed relocation? So wouldn't this just work for any kind of translocation or would this only work for species?

How about if it works, would it work for moving ecosystems . And, you know, the general idea was, well, yes, that's something that a structure like this would be very general and usable in different situations. You'd want to go into that with your eyes open and be careful about what things that you might be missing or things that you don't need to be doing in that particular case.

But that our focus was really to constrain it on this notion of when moving a species, because we thought we better start with something small and confined and think about that ecological risk. 

Emile Elias: Excellent. Yeah. Thanks. I was thinking about other agencies and other groups that are coping with climate adaptation and a similar qualitative framework could really be an interesting approach for them.

So this next question is for Aviv. And I'm wondering about this qualitative approach, and if it means that the frameworks output is somewhat sensitive to the practitioner using it. 

Aviv Karasov-Olson: Yeah. So in many ways it is somewhat sensitive to whoever is using the framework. And in many cases, practitioners are making these decisions and they're very context specific and each managed relocation action may have different elements.

And so we wanted a framework that was really flexible in that way. And then another reason that we aimed for an assessment that was particularly qualitative in nature is because there were a lot of drawbacks to using a very structured quantitative approach. So in the sense of a quantitative approach, it may result in a false sense of accuracy. It's very dependent on robust quantitative data for every single element of risk that may or may not be present. And also in many cases, quantitative assessments really encourage summation and averaging. And as we've noted earlier, some of these categories are really at odds with each other, the risk of an action and the risk of not taking an action.

And so summation and averaging wouldn't make sense in those situations. And in many cases, the actual decision itself is very much based on values and as a values judgment. So weighing benefits against risks, some risks may be stronger than others. Some may be more easily addressed during implementation versus not.

So for example, the risk of the translocated individuals spreading a disease, that's something that could maybe be addressed during implementation with treatment. Whereas other risks may not be able to be addressed. So risk of undesired evolution in a non target species, for example. And so having a more qualitative approach really allows decision makers to be well-informed with the information, but still have a lot of room for these values based judgments.

In ultimately making a decision whether or not to move forward. And additionally, we wanted to incorporate some amount of confidence into this which is really important when considering qualitative assessments. So we allow for a space for the users of this assessment to make judgments on how confident they are in any individual assessment based on the amount and quality of evidence, the agreement among evidence.

So adding some bit of assurance when you're making these assessments moving forward. I think it's really important when you have a qualitative assessment, like this. 

Sarah LeRoy: Thanks Aviv. That actually segues well into my next question. There are kind of different camps concerning the translocation of species.

A lot of people are on board. They see the benefits to this, others, you know, they, they, aren't on board and they're concerned about the risks that we're talking about today. So one feature of this assessment is that there's a part of it that you dedicated to evaluating the risk of no action. As well as the risk of taking action of managed relocation and it helps managers to weigh those options as you just described.

So Mark, I'm wondering if you think that this might be helpful in communication between these two different groups. 

Mark Schwartz: Yeah, Sarah, that's a, that's a good point. I don't think that we explicitly thought of it that way, but I certainly get this notion of these different camps. I came into this whole discussion clearly in one camp.

I mean, so because I've studied managed relocation I've been assumed to be in the camp that says, let's do it. Let's get going. But as I mentioned earlier, it was studying the species Torreya taxifolia, and there was a citizens action group that moved this species, 600 kilometers north of its native range up in North Carolina.

And it's a federally listed endangered species. And I was rather surprised to find that because they had legally obtained seeds from a Botanic garden. And they had legal permission of the landowners that they didn't need to ask anyone permission to do this. They were all well within their legal bounds.

And so in fact they didn't, they didn't talk to anybody about it. And so I ended up thinking, wow, do we know the people of North Carolina want the species there? What happens when it moves from the prop plant property they put it onto someplace else. That seems like a terrible, terrible idea. Don't do it.

And there was, this was aided by the fact that there was plant material and Botanic gardens. And so there wasn't an imminent, there isn't an imminent risk of a species going extinct. There is an imminent risk of going extinct in the wild. And so I came into this thinking we needed to be way, way more deliberative about this process than we are.

I've been confronted by a number of examples where the situation is very, very dire and the species that's going extinct in the wild has no in captivity populations. And so it does seem that if we're concerned about extinction, that we might need to act very, very soon. And so my position has softened on that.

And I think that, I mean, Aviv even mentioned this earlier that ally's decisions come down to the values. And so we have these disagreements and they are focused around values. And I think that one of the critical decision-making strategies for moving beyond a brick wall in terms of making a decision is developing a shared understanding of those values, understanding why I might think that it's, we need to move Torreya taxifolia north now, even if we don't have permission or why we need to not. And in fact, I've been in talking to the leader of the Torreya Guardians now for well close to two decades, and we have a pretty close understanding of each other and why we think the way we think.

And we appreciate the way we think, although we think very differently about the problem. And I think that, you know, this ecological assessment is an early step in the assessment phase of whether to do a project. And we did this with an explicit understanding that there's social values that will come into this decision and that it's probably good to have an ecological assessment of what is the perception of risk prior to going out and really evaluating the social acceptability of that risk and the social values.

And that that part of the assessment will phase of a project would be to assess the risk of damage that you might cause inadvertently by moving a species and then bringing that information to the public and saying, asking, are you okay with that, that kind of risk? You know, before you get onto some design phase and the actual implementation.

Sarah LeRoy: Thanks Mark. In the assessment, you initially tested this framework with four different case studies and you know, it's always nice to be able to hear examples when we're talking about complex issues like this. And so I'm wondering what you thought was the most interesting case study, and if you could delve a little bit into it.

And so Aviv we'll start with you. 

Aviv Karasov-Olson: Sure. So the first thing that I'll really emphasize about these case studies is they were hypothetical. So these aren't actions where there are plans in place to move a species. Our goal in using case studies was really to test the effectiveness and ease of use of the assessment and whether it's comprehensively addressed all elements of risk. So I think for me, the most interesting case study was one that was actually done by our colleagues at the University of Minnesota, Jessica Hellman, and Sarah Stickney. They looked at the hypothetical case of moving the Karner blue butterfly. So the Karner blue butterfly is an endangered species native to sort of Savannah barrier ecosystems.

It's threatened due to a combination of development, fragmentation, vulnerability to climate change. And so they discussed a hypothetical situation of collecting butterflies from Southern Michigan, propagating them in a facility and releasing them in some coastal dune habitats in the Northern coast of lake Michigan.

And what was really interesting about this case study is as they were moving through the risk assessment, they identified that what really posed some of the more, the greater risk was associated with secondary translocation that was required for this. So Karner blue butterflies rely exclusively on a host plant Lupin.

And so translocating a Karner blue butterfly required the additional translocation of Lupin to support that population because these Northern coastal dune habitat do not currently have Lupin. And what was interesting about this is that Lupin can potentially be an invasive species itself and can compete with another threatened species, the Pitcher's thistle, which was actually coincidentally, another one of our case studies. We did not intend for this interaction when we selected our case studies and it resulted in this interesting dynamic. And so I think what was interesting about this case study is it exposed how moving through thinking about risk in a really structured way can expose different dynamics and elements of risk that you wouldn't initially think of.

And really presented this to be a much more complex situation where you are starting to consider different values and how the risk of losing a Karner blue butterfly population is weighed against the potential risk to impacts of Pitcher's thistle in the recipient ecosystem. And really forced us to think about these different dynamics than perhaps if you're just considering this case in a less structured manner, you might not consider some of those dynamics.

Sarah LeRoy: Thank you Aviv, for sharing that case study. It sounds very interesting and I think it really illustrates what we're talking about here and, and yeah, I wouldn't have thought about, you know, a partner species in a way. Some species require other things to move to. I hadn't thought about that. So thank you. Mark, do you want to highlight one of the other case studies? 

Mark Schwartz: Oh yeah. I'd love to. Here we are in California, Aviv and I any way. So it's hard to not like the giant Sequoia example. And it's an example that really motivates us for different reasons. I mean, this is an iconic species that most people in the world have heard of.

And many people go to see every year and lives for thousands of years. And so, and yes, it's threatened by climate change and increased fire frequencies up slope. And so no one wants to go and see an eight year old Sequoia tree. You go to see the big giants. And so if you think that climate change precedes and that the range within the national parks for where the groves are now no longer become tenable for groves. And we've had fires that have moved into groves over the last few years and very strong evidence of vulnerability of groves. Then you have to think about moving groves upslope within the park. And that becomes a very difficult issue because I mean, this is not a species that is likely to go to extinct.

People have planted it, recreationally all over the world. It's in Botanic gardens, there's seed available, but where you have natural groves of it in its natural environment is a, is a tricky issue. So you could move groves, move trees, upslope. They're not really likely to disperse up on their own and establish new groves very quickly, but where you'd put them is most likely in an associated with Meadows, which have their own constituency.

The people like love Alpine Meadows. And so if you're going to create new groves, you're probably going to be doing it by infringing upon existing Meadows and in doing so, you're quite likely to generate controversy over this being inappropriate or an inappropriate thing to do. Now, you know, Sequoias live for a long time and if we can avoid stands being burned up, the droughts that we're suffering through now are not likely to kill trees.

At least in the short term, we haven't hit a drought that would remove our groves from us yet. But one does wonder what happens in the future and when we would need to make a decision to move Sequoias upslope. So it's not just a function of if or how, but also when. What's the trigger that should allow us to do this.

And if you think you're looking for at least a few hundred year old trees to make a good grove, well, you monitor it so well in advance of that shoe dropping on the populations that are there so that it makes it a very, very difficult and tricky management problem for those guys. 

Sarah LeRoy: Thanks Mark. And we actually talked with Christy Brigham at Sequoia and Kings National Park on our April episode. She touched on some of those things that you mentioned as well. And so I'm wondering Mark, do you think that this Park Service Ecological Risk Assessment, do you think it has the potential to turn into a policy document? 

Mark Schwartz: Yeah, I hope so. I think that I don't know exactly how that might happen, but we have remained in contact with the Park Service folks, and they are working in the climate change office. And they're working toward an understanding where this becomes a policy where decisions that impinge upon park resources that might need to assess the risk of those actions. And we are also now working with the Fish Wildlife Service in the Pacific Northwest and the Pacific islands, and that they are developing guidelines for how their agency might go about making decisions with respect to managed relocation. And frankly, the Fish and Wildlife Service might be the agency that most frequently deals with this issue. And they have approached this problem in part, because they see that there's a lot of information available, now. There's been a lot of papers written about different attributes of making a decision with respect to managed relocation. And this Park Service document on risk is certainly one of the ones that they've been paying attention to. So it would be nice to see one or more agencies develop this more formally into a policy.

Emile Elias: Thanks Mark. That's great. And earlier today I was just talking with a different agency and they were asking very similar questions, not about managed relocation, but about risk and about responding to change. So I feel like this framework that you've developed could apply in a lot of different areas.

And so bringing it back to a more local level, if a resource manager were interested in using this ecological risk assessment tool to evaluate a potential project, where can they find it other than our episode description, because you'll be able to find it online there. And then do you have any advice for them in applying it?

And we'll start with Aviv and then give Mark a chance to chime in. 

Aviv Karasov-Olson: So the risk assessment is available on the National Park Service website in their natural resource reports series. And on the website, we have included both the workbook, which includes background information about the assessment, it addresses issues of definition and terminology, step-by-step instructions of how to move through the assessment, as well as the case studies that you mentioned earlier. And then I'm not sure if I mentioned this earlier, but the assessment itself is built into a very user-friendly interactive Excel spreadsheet. So you can go through each element of risk and enter sort of the risk score, the confidence, sources of information, comments, things like that. And the spreadsheet itself is also posted on the National Parks Service website. And in terms of advice for using this, I think, really the number one item of advice I have is avoid leaving sections blank due to limited information. Many elements of risk are things that may have not been directly studied and published in primary literature.

And I think there's an opportunity to pull from a lot of different sources of information. So including primary literature on the target species, but also reports, literature on proxy species, other assessments, expert elicitation. And I think trying to use all of the different sources of information and then understanding that it's okay if you have low confidence or high uncertainty in some element of risk, but making sure that that is documented in a structured way, I think is one of the best ways to use the assessment.

Emile Elias: Great advice. I like that advice about not leaving something blank. Mark, did you have anything to add? 

Mark Schwartz: Sure, yes. So I've been doing reading recently about cognitive biases, just for fun. And we hear a lot about these now, but one of the principle ones is how uncertainty paralyzes us and that we're unwilling to make new decisions if we're too uncertain about things.

And Aviv is right, that there is going to be a lot of places in most assessments for most species where you're going to feel like you wish you had more information. We always wish we had more information and decision scientists will be quick to point out that you can't let a lack of information, inhibit a decision.

You know, that you might get to a better decision if you had more information, but we don't want to go into paralysis through analysis and, and analyze things for years and years to not make a decision. We can always make a new decision down the road if we, as we get more information. But I think that filling this out, doing the best job you can, with all the information that's available to you and not leaving things blank as Aviv pointed out, because, if you don't know anything about something you want to know that you don't know anything about that. And so you want your documents record the fact that you have very little information to bring to bear upon a particular avenue of risk and that's okay. 

Emile Elias: That's great advice. Yeah. Thank you. So this is a relatively new risk assessment framework or methodology.

And I'm wondering if you know of any park managers that have used this ecological risk assessment tool yet. The paper that describes the methodology did mention an application in Glacier National Park, but I'm wondering if there are others or if you want to talk about that. 

Mark Schwartz: Yeah, sure. Well, that, that application in Glacier National Park actually preceded this this document, but when the publication was a little bit delayed in coming out and put, going up on the National Park Service site and Cat Hawkins Hoffman and her climate change office was getting a bit of pressure from various parks because their people were very anxious to use it.

Now, now that said there's no one's under any obligation to tell us that they're, they've gone off and started using it. And so, no, we don't know of anyone who's, who's using it. In working with the Fish and Wildlife Service, they have done a bit of homework on looking around at various different actions that have happened and proposals for actions to happen.

And so they have a pretty good beat on, on the world of, I guess, potential management actions in managed relocation. And Aviv and I were trying to remember earlier that the person who was doing that synthesis mentioned a one or two species where they felt that there was somebody using the risk assessment.

And we were a little surprised to hear that it was being used because the ink was hardly dry on it. But and so that was great, but no, we haven't heard any specific cases where people are using it. 

Emile Elias: Well, I feel like you probably will. I imagine you will. Yeah, me too. It's funny when you put something out into the world like that and, you know, it's, it was really needed, people wanted it and, and it is likely being used, but you don't get a lot of feedback. 

Mark Schwartz: Well, yeah, sure. I mean, I'm an academic, I'm certainly guilty of this is that we write papers and we try and write them to big, broad, general audiences. And the consequence of doing that is it makes them pretty useless to a resource manager. That they're just too high level and too general. And so this was a real effort to produce something that was user-friendly that, that a resource manager could pick it up and put it to use. And so it will be nice to see in a few years whether the rubber hits the road on this. But we have advocates within the resource agencies that are trying to see to it, that it is so. We're hopeful.

Emile Elias: Great. And that was a good segue because we like to end all of our episodes asking about hope. And you have developed this process or structured way of thinking about minimizing unintended ecological consequences, basically. And so when thinking about climate change impacts and the managed relocation of species and the risks involved, what gives you hope for the future?

And we'll go ahead and start with Aviv. 

Aviv Karasov-Olson: That's a great question, especially when thinking about climate change as this big, potentially untenable problem. Thinking about optimistic outcomes. I think what gives me hope is thinking about this as a novel challenge, that really requires novel solutions. And once there's an interest and movement within the scientific community, resource managers, practitioners, to really confront some of these issues head on, we tend to be risk averse. People are very risk averse and taking action to really confront some of those, even if we're not directly making a decision simply acknowledging that risk is a part of some of these novel solutions moving forward and just being willing to confront those and discuss those in sort of a logical systematic way. I think gives me hope for the future, thinking about how we can use different tools available to us to really increase our capacity, to handle a lot of difficult choices that may be in front of us.

Emile Elias: Absolutely, hope definitely relates to action. According to Katharine Hayhoe, at least. Mark, what about you? What gives you hope for the future? 

Mark Schwartz: Yeah. Well, I guess my answer to that might be a little narrow and a bit wonky, but I think that what gives me hope is that I see our resource management agencies being very careful and thoughtful about how they go about decision making.

They are in a world now where they recognize the need to engage stakeholders. And they're embracing this idea of how they're going to bring the broadest community possible into making the best decisions possible. And so there's a lot of work going on out there in a lot of different areas, with a lot of different people, all bringing these ideas of how you make good, robust, durable, collective engaged decisions, and then taking action on those decisions. And this is ours is just one example of these, but I, I feel very hopeful that we're moving to a much better place in resource decision making. 

Emile Elias: Excellent. Thank you so much of Aviv Karasov-Olson and Mark Schwartz for the work that you've done to minimize unintended ecological consequences and sharing that work and talking with us today.

It was great to speak with you. Thanks. 

Sarah LeRoy: Thank you guys. 

Aviv Karasov-Olson: Yeah. Thank you so much for having us. 

Mark Schwartz: Thank you very much. It's been fun. 

Emile Elias: Thanks for listening to Come Rain or Shine, podcast of the USDA Southwest Climate Hub and the USGS Southwest CASC. If you liked this podcast, don't forget to rate or review it and subscribe for more great episodes. A special thanks to our production crew, Skye Aney and Reanna Burnett.

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