The Adaptation Science Management Team (ASMT) met in person last week in Lafayette, Louisiana to discuss 3 main topics: updating the Integrated Science Agenda, advancing the Conservation Blueprint process, and science need priorities for 2016.  In the process, we got to sample some great Cajun food. Many thanks to Steve Hartley & John Tirpak for cooking up the crawfish at the social.  Also, thanks to Blair Tirpak for helping us coordinate the meeting room reservations & other logistics.

Revising the ISA

The GCPO’s Integrated Science Agenda (ISA) was developed in 2012-13 and serves as the foundation of our conservation planning and design efforts.  From the beginning, it was envisioned that the ISA would be a living document with updates occurring regularly as we increase our understanding of the landscapes of the GCPO.  Efforts to develop the Ecological Assessment project and the Conservation Blueprint have revealed shortcomings of the current ISA (version 4) in terms of its transparency & defensibility. The ASMT split into terrestrial and aquatic sections to discuss how to address these issues and produce version 5 of the ISA.  In both cases, the team heard updates on the Ecological Assessments; the aquatics group also got an update on SARP’s project to suggest revisions to the ISA. 

On the terrestrial side, the team settled on several principles, including (1) allowing metrics of ecological integrity (i.e. Landscape Endpoints) for each habitat to vary by subgeography, (2) allowing Species Endpoints to vary by subgeography within habitats, (3) seizing the opportunity to add plants to the list of Species Endpoints where possible, (4) better aligning landscape and species endpoints through data analysis, and (5) allowing updates for each habitat system to proceed independently in each geography depending on partner interest & data availability. On the aquatic side, discussions revolved more around understanding audiences, identifying threats, and identifying pilot projects to demonstrate the value of LCCs to the aquatics community. The approach tentatively adopted by the terrestrial group of testing aquatic Landscape Endpoints with species data was discussed.

Advancing the Blueprint

The team got an update on the Blueprint Workshops and a summary of responses.  In general, the workshops attendees appreciated the opportunity to engage in the Blueprint process and liked the transparency of the decision rule approach.  However, the devil is in the details and many issues were raised.  The ASMT discussed many of these issues and tentatively supported the idea of breaking the current draft Blueprint maps into separate decision support tools for maintenance, protection and restoration. Tentative support was also given to the idea of de-emphasizing protected areas in order to elevate private land conservation in the Blueprint.

The team also discussed next steps in the Blueprint process, including the development of focal areas for the LCC.  These focal areas are intended to serve 2 purposes.  First, they should identify the best places for shared actions and encompass enough conservation actions to achieve the habitat goals in the ISA. Second, they should serve as incubators of innovation for co-production of science, shared decision making, monitoring effectiveness of conservation actions, and evaluating the success of the partnership. The team discussed 5 options for designating focal areas ranging from optimization modeling to decision rules.  These approaches vary in terms of complexity, effort, and transparency.  Ultimately the team decided a combination of approaches was best, starting with a decision rule approach and following up with an optimization approach for comparison.

Science Needs

The team discussed both short term & long term needs and approaches to fill those needs.  In the short term (i.e. this year’s funds – which still haven’t arrived yet), the team agreed with the staff’s recommendations for highest priority needs.  The first need included hiring postdocs to perform analyses related to revision of the ISA and to develop species-habitat models to support scenario planning for the Blueprint.  The second need included working with SARP to generate better spatial information on aquatic barriers and subsequently develop a decision support tool to support aquatic connectivity assessments.  Discussions on aquatic threats during the ISA revision session further supported funding this project. If funds are available beyond these projects, the team decided to defer to staff’s evaluation of what projects would be most beneficial for advancing the Blueprint.

In the long term, the team favored a Request For Pre-proposal process. This decision recognizes the perpetual uncertainty in annual appropriations and reduces the burden on applicants and reviewers.  The general outline of the process include having Staff work with the ASMT to identify 1-3 priority topics in the fall.  Requests for brief pre-proposals (i.e. 1 page) would be announced in winter. Pre-proposals would be ranked in spring and once appropriation levels are known, full proposals would be requested from top ranked pre-proposals. It was envisioned that this process would operate every other year, with alternate years available for pursuing unfunded pre-proposals or emerging needs.

Next Steps

Full notes from the meeting will be posted soon.  The current draft Blueprint maps (i.e. maps ranking maintenance, protection & restoration) are available for review on the CPA and Staff will be giving a webinar on how to provide comments on line on Monday 4/25 at 1 PM Central. That review period will last until May 10th. Meanwhile, staff will be working to develop updated decision rule sets for mapping and ranking conservation actions (e.g. restoration) based on workshop responses and ASMT comments. These will be presented back to the ASMT in mid-May along with any new revelations from the CPA reviews.  Staff will also begin working on a rule set for delineating focal areas for the LCC for presentation in mid-May.  Changes requested by the ASMT in mid-May will be incorporated ahead of the Steering Committee meeting in mid-June.

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