Considering Multiple Futures: Scenario Planning To Address Uncertainty in Natural Resource Conservation

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Erika L. Rowland, Molly S. Cross, Holly Hartmann
July, 2014
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Conservation professionals face unprecedented challenges arising from changes
in land use, invasive species, biodiversity, climate, and more. These changes
interact in complex ways, introducing an array of uncertainties that confound
natural resource decision-making. While uncertainty is not new to natural
resource management, limitations in our ability to confidently predict the
direction, rate, and nature of the effects of climate and other drivers of change
on natural and human systems has reinforced the need for tools to cope with the
associated uncertainties.

Scenario planning is one approach used to help inform natural resource
management decision-making in light of uncertainties. With a long history
of successful application in military strategy and land-use planning, scenario
planning is particularly applicable in situations of high uncertainty and
complexity. As a decision support method, it can inform a conscious approach
to risk management, through the identification of strategies that are robust
to uncertainty in future conditions. Applying scenario planning to a natural
resource management challenge can provide insights into future trajectories
that may unfold, and prepare managers to respond appropriately in the near and
long term.

In this guide we present a broad synthesis of scenario planning concepts and
approaches, focused on applications in natural resource management and
conservation. The guide is intended to help natural resource and conservation
professionals, including managers, planners, and researchers to:

- Understand the core elements of scenario planning;
- Identify situations for which scenario planning could be a valuable tool, and
what distinguishes it from other decision support frameworks and methods;
- Understand the range of options for implementing scenario planning and
identify approaches that fit their needs;
- Get started on their own scenario planning effort; and
- Find additional resources to support the application of a given scenario
planning approach;

The guide includes numerous examples of how natural resource professionals are
using scenario planning to consider the direct and interacting effects of climate
change on conservation goals and actions.


Rowland, E., M. Cross, and H. Hartmann. 2014, July. Considering Multiple Futures: Scenario Planning To Address Uncertainty in Natural Resource Conservation. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.