CRAFTING Future Forests

Successful restoration of longleaf pine forests requires frequent fires. Photo by USDA Forest Service.

Over the past few years, Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center (EFETAC) scientists have developed and refined a new resource, the Comparative Risk Assessment Framework and Tools (CRAFT), designed to help natural resource managers and stakeholders work through land management decisions and find common ground, sometimes by coming up with unexpected solutions.

EFETAC launched CRAFT as a user-friendly Web-based system in fall 2009. Building on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) framework, CRAFT offers a simple and comprehensive approach that teams of managers and stakeholders can use to look at the risks and tradeoffs associated with different management scenarios.

“It’s all about tradeoffs,” says Steve Norman, EFETAC research ecologist who helped develop CRAFT. “Before NEPA, land managers made decisions by focusing on individual threats or values. Today, even with NEPA in place, the broader effects decisions could have on other values are still difficult to predict.”

CRAFT is designed to capture this broader view of what’s likely to happen if as a result of decisions or actions and to ensure that the values that are most likely to be affected are adequately considered. As its name indicates, CRAFT is about comparative risk assessment, allowing users to weigh the likely impacts of decisions or actions on the values they care about.

The process starts when a group of stakeholders or a management team sits down at the table to examine values and look at how they are affected by the problem at hand and possible solutions. Through the process, team members explore the probable and possible outcomes of different actions—including the decision not to act—while broadening their own understanding of conflicts, tradeoffs, and the uncertainties and unintended effects that follow from decision alternatives.

To develop CRAFT, EFETAC partnered with the University of North Carolina Ashevilles National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center (NEMAC), which created a unique array of Web-based resources, including the CRAFTiPedia—a “wiki” style reference database and glossary. The CRAFT online tool can store and share the diagrams, text, tables, data, and models created during each decisionmaking project.

Although designed to follow NEPA requirements, CRAFT can be used by a much broader range of audiences and for regional and even national-level issues. One of the latest applications of CRAFT involves the National Wildfire Management Cohesive Strategy, a multiagency wildfire strategy that aligns with the Forest Service National Roadmap for Responding to Climate Change.

Led by EFETACs director Danny Lee, who helped develop CRAFT, the all-lands approach of the fire strategy has three main goals: using ecosystem restoration to build fire-adapted communities, building fire-adapted human communities by sharing knowledge and technical resources, and responding appropriately to wildfire.

“Applying CRAFT to address wildfire issues in the Southeast is exciting,” says Norman. “Fire is necessary for the resilience of many southern ecosystems, but prescribed fire use can conflict with trends in urban development and invasive species.” CRAFT provides the framework to get at these issues and more—and just maybe some solutions no ones thought of yet.

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