Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version

Summer 2011


The Wildlife Professional, Summer 2011


Copyright The Wildlife Society


In the popular movie Apollo 13, based on the actual NASA mission, three astronauts are stranded in space, their craft’s electrical system broken, their oxygen quickly running out. To help them fix the problem and return home safely, mission controllers summon a group of engineers, dump a pile of equipment onto a desk—the tools available to the astronauts—and tell them to find a solution, or more specifically, “a way to put a square peg in a round hole. Rapidly.” Eventually, the engineers’ plan saves the day, and the astronauts make it home.

State and federal agency biologists generally do not face life-or-death decisions of this magnitude, but many do face day-to-day decisions that share traits with the Apollo 13 crisis. Biologists and managers have deadlines, uncertainty, and a limited tool set. The critical need, and the missing part of the analogy, is the team of engineers—trained problem solvers who are intimately familiar with the decision environment and the tools available to create a solution.

Structured decision making (SDM) is a formal process that problem solvers can use to document and weigh alternative management scenarios in terms of their respective benefits, costs, and likelihood of success or failure (Clemen 1996). SDM serves as a vital complement to Adaptive Resource Management (ARM), which—through an iterative cycle of planning, doing, monitoring, and evaluating— provides a learning-based framework for making conservation decisions (Knutson et al. 2010, Williams et al. 2007).

Although natural resource professionals are increasingly relying on SDM and ARM to make decisions about complex management situations, university programs in wildlife management rarely teach undergraduate or graduate students about decision-making strategies (Boyles et al. 2008). We believe that university and college faculty must respond to the need for student training in ARM. Here, we describe ways that existing undergraduate and graduate curricula can be modified to produce graduates who are ready to tackle today’s complex wildlife management problems.