Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Massachusetts
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Massachusetts Project

Difficult disease decisions: how to reduce risk when dealing with multiple competing objectives and opposing risk tolerances

June 2021 - May 2022


Participating Agencies

  • Risk Community of Practice

Ecosystem resource management becomes complicated quickly when managers have multiple objectives and different risk tolerances to a given management action. For example, when faced with the potential threat of disease emergence, resource managers must balance: (a) the risk of a disease outbreak if delaying management, which may result in animal mass mortality at some unspecified point in time, and (b) the risk of implementing unnecessary management if no disease outbreak occurs, which may require tradeoffs in the near-term (e.g., preemptive culling reduces the immediate population size). Using the high-profile emerging pathogen of amphibians, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), that threatens invasion into North America, we will identify approaches to improve decision-making in the face of multiple objectives and opposing risk tolerances. This work builds on ongoing work; we have already framed the decision related to a possible Bsal invasion with three National Wildlife Refuge managers in the northeastern United States (a hotspot for Bsal risk). We will use simulations, modeling, and optimization techniques to identify optimal actions when there are multiple objectives and opposing risks. We will generate user-friendly visualization tools intended to support risk reduction. We anticipate that our approach and framework can be modified and used for future decisions on human well-being and society related to emerging infectious diseases (and other hazards). Therefore, we foresee that our approach and framework will help better understand, predict, and communicate the tradeoffs decision-makers are forced to make in the face of uncertainty.