On 1 November 2011, natural resource scholars and policy experts shared with Congress, federal agency personnel, and nongovernmental organization representatives a set of priorities for multidisciplinary research that decision makers have said will address the nation’s most pressing environmental problems. The briefing drew attention to the most important areas of scientific inquiry decision makers have indicated are required for effective management in the domains of agriculture, biofuels, land use, climate change, and protected species.

The program, “Priorities for Research on Management and Conservation of Natural Resources,” is based upon a process that resulted in a peer-reviewed article published in the April 2011 issue of the science journal BioScience, published by the American Institute of Biological Sciences. Three of the 30 authors of the article presented the results of the process: the 40 top priority environmental research questions identified by natural resource decision makers. ?

“The questions focus on assessing trade-offs among economic, social, and ecological issues,” said Erica Fleishman, the primary author of the paper and a researcher with the John Muir Institute of the Environment at the University of California, Davis. “We created a mechanism where decision makers said to scientists, ‘This is what we need to address society’s priorities for natural resources.’ ” ?Two other authors of the paper, Barry R. Noon, a professor at Colorado State University, and Jimmie Powell, Energy Team Lead at The Nature Conservancy, also participated in the briefing.

The three hope that the work of the larger group will help align scientific research agendas with the needs of natural resource decision makers. Although some relevant research is being conducted on all of the identified research priorities, many decision makers feel that answers are not emerging rapidly enough to inform policy during the next 10 years. Additionally, many academic researchers are unaware that answers to these questions are a high priority for decision makers.

The author’s argued that aligning natural resource management and conservation research with policy priorities would increase the relevance of ongoing research to society. Moreover, the group emphasized the benefits to the United States of processes to better enable sustained interaction between natural resource scientists and decision makers.

The article’s findings are based upon an innovative and intensive process to solicit and synthesize questions about research relevant to natural resource managers. Leading policymakers and scientists canvassed their colleagues to identify top-priority research questions to inform decisions about species and ecosystem management. Questions were submitted by 375 individuals involved with natural resource policy, management, or research. The project’s emphasis on direct engagement of decision makers and policy experts sets this effort apart from previous attempts to identify research priorities.

The authors expect that the 40 questions, if answered, will increase the effectiveness of policies related to conservation and management of natural resources.

The authors invite policy makers, resource managers, and researchers in the United States to participate in a survey they are conducting to maximize effectiveness of policy and management related to natural resources in the United States. The survey asks participants to prioritize the 40 research questions. Access the survey at http://www.envsurvey.com/40Q/cgi-bin/ciwweb.pl?studyname=40Q&AC=111222.

The AIBS Public Policy Office provided logistical support and planning assistance for this briefing. These services are among the policy and media outreach assistance that AIBS can provide to scientific societies and organizations. For more information about these services, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/ or contact AIBS Director of Public Policy Dr. Robert Gropp at publicpolicy@aibs.org.


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