Managing risks associated with conservation investments has become an essential component of contemporary resource planning. Successful investments now demand outcome-based evaluations and properly managed portfolios to justify public expenditures necessary to communicate advances in natural resource conservation. These expectations pose new challenges to landscape conservation goals that often depend on maintenance of ecological processes that are inherently dynamic and difficult to predict. Across the western United States enormous sums of money have been spent on the protection and restoration of wildlife habitats, yet few conservation groups link past expenditures to beneficial outcomes. Sustaining future conservation funding will depend on resource managers’ ability to minimize investment risk and demonstrate outcomes by incorporating ecological uncertainties into the planning process (Adams et al. 2014).
The seasonal dynamics of water resources poses specific challenges to conservation strategies that assume static returns on investments made in wetland systems. Climatic variability in the West drives annual precipitation and snowpack that falls below 75% of normal one of five years (Rajagopalan and Lall 1998). Snowpack is the driver of natural and working wetlands (i.e. flood irrigated hay meadows) that rely on melt water from mountain snows to flood productive valley bottoms during spring and early summer. The stochastic nature of climate underlying wetland flooding in the West leads to unpredictability in timing and duration of seasonal inundation that influences trends in range productivity and wildlife habitats. Complex irrigation infrastructure (i.e. canals, head gates, small dams) and water rights governing irrigation practices can further compound predictability of private working wetlands that encompass the majority of wetland resources in the West (Donnelly et al. 2018).Keyword Tags: