How To Make Better Decisions in Forest Planning
Decision making is a crucial aspect of our lives. Whether in our personal or professional lives, even the smallest decision matters. Our decision making ability allows us to function as persons, as a society, a business and so on. Regardless of the size of the decison being taken, the process is challenging and full of uncertainties.
But how can we make sure that we will make the right decisions? In order to answer this question, we have to first understand what is a right decision.
Every decision is a choice between a number of alternatives that will always have consequences, big or small. A decision maker will likely want to choose the alternative that will generate the best possible results according to his preferences and objectives.
But finding the option that will lead to the best possible outcome is not always straight-forward. Decision makers often face a great level of uncertainty and environments with incomplete information, multiple stakeholders, multiple decision makers, and unclear options.
A decision maker who is looking to maximize the positive results - or utility if we want to get technical - could start by first structuring the problem in hand to understand the following:
What are the possible alternatives to choose from;
What is the available information that will help guide the decision;
What would be the consequences of choosing one alternative over another;
What are the preferences that need to be taken into consideration.
As presented in the previous post, modelling can be a valuable tool when trying to understand a problem and predicting the consequences of each alternative. For that reason, when a decision is complex and the decision maker cannot afford to "trust his gut", modelling is a great option.
Decision Making in Forest Management
The management of forests is simply a large succession of decisions that will affect that area for a long time to come. These decisions can be: how to regenerate a stand, when to harvest, how to improve forest health, how to improve biodiversity levels and so on.
The book Decision Support for Forest Management (Managing Forest Ecosystems) by Kangas, Kangas and Kurttila propose five steps for the forest planning process.
"(i) Forest data acquisition and assessing the present state of the forests
(ii) Clarifying the criteria and preferences of the decision maker(s) regarding the
use of forests and, in participatory planning, clarifying the criteria and preferences
of other interested parties
(iii) Generating alternative treatment schedules for forest stands within the planning
area and predicting their consequences
(iv) Producing efficient production programmes for the forest area
(v) Choosing the best production programme from among those deemed to be efficient
with respect to the criteria and preferences as clarified in phase (ii) " (p. 5)
It is easy to see that the forest planning process resembles much the "generic" decision making steps. However, most problems in the forest planning case tend to be acquire very large scales, to include many stakeholders and multiple variables.
Decision Support System - The way to better decision-making
A Decision support system (DSS) is a tool designed to aid the decision making process, or, in other words, lead the decision maker to choose the best available alternative. Computer-based DSSs are used throughout academy and business alike because they are capable of finding optimal alternatives for extremely complex problems with ease.
In forest management planning, for instance, a DSS usually includes a simulator and an optimizer. These tools allow it to evaluate and predict different forest development scenarios and select the optimal one from the number of alternatives produced.
There is no question that DSSs are very useful in managing forests and are quickly becoming almost mandatory tools in forest management due to an increasing need for all levels of sustainability. DSSs are specially relevant when they are able to cover decision problems throughout the entire productive process, from the valuation of potential timberland investment to the management and planning of the existing portfolio.
If you are interested and would like to know more about Decision support and methods, check out:
Decision Support for Forest Management (Managing Forest Ecosystems) by Kangas, A; Kangas, J and Kurttila, M. - http://www.amazon.com/Decision-Support-Management-Managing-Ecosystems/dp/1402067860