Research identifies top natural resource questions

Experts ask policy makers what scientific research is needed to guide the conservation and management of natural resources.

Troy, Michigan
Originally release April 13, 2011

A wide-ranging group of experts has published a set of 40 key environmental questions to help align scientific research agendas with the needs of natural resource decision makers.

The cover story of the April issue of BioScience reports on the results of the work funded with a grant from The Kresge Foundation.

The findings were derived from a process in which 35 participants solicited and synthesized questions about science relevant to natural resource management. Questions were submitted by 375 individuals who are involved with natural resource policy, management, or study.

>> Read the full article, Top 40 Priorities for Science to Inform US Conservation and Management Policy. (PDF)

The first author is Erica Fleishman, a researcher with UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and the John Muir Institute of the Environment at UC Davis.

She and six colleagues – David Blockstein, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington; John Hall, U.S. Department of Defense, Arlington, Va.; Michael Mascia, World Wildlife Fund; Murray Rudd, Environment Department, University of York, Britain; J. Michael Scott, U.S. Geological Survey, Fort Collins, Colo.; and William Sutherland, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Britain – led the effort.

John R. Nordgren, a senior program officer for Kresge’s Environment Program, was among the co-authors.

The questions focus on assessing trade-offs among economic, social, and ecological issues,” said Fleishman. It’s important to determine how to encourage communication among those who generate information about natural resources and the users of that information, she said.

We created a mechanism where decision makers said to scientists, ‘This is what we need to address society’s priorities for natural resources.’, ” Fleishman said. She described the endeavor as a means to facilitate collaboration, and more of a starting point than an ending.

The authors expect that the 40 questions, if answered, will increase effectiveness of policies related to conservation and management of natural resources. They are launching an effort to survey many more individuals about how they would prioritize the questions.

America’s incredibly diverse natural resources are under increasing pressure, and policy makers often lack scientific information to make informed decisions about how to conserve them,” said co-author Michael Mascia, social scientist with the World Wildlife Fund. “These 40 questions can help guide research priorities and ultimately give society the information needed to conserve the environment we all depend upon.

The questions, which highlight a wide array of environmental issues, include:

  • What quantity and quality of surface and groundwater will be necessary to sustain U.S. populations and ecosystem resilience during the next 100 years?
  • How do different strategies for growing and harvesting biomass or biofuel affect ecosystems and associated social and economic systems?
  • How do different agricultural practices and technologies affect water availability and quality?
  • How will changes in land-use and climate affect the effectiveness of terrestrial and marine protected areas?

The authors present an optimistic view of how their work may promote change: “History provides numerous precedents for transforming crisis into opportunity if the crisis can function as an incentive to action,” they write. “The Marshall Plan, for example, revitalized economies, diplomacy, and societal confidence in Western Europe following World War II. If changes in land-use and climate catalyze greater engagement among researchers and decision makers, phenomena with the potential to negatively affect ecological and human systems may lead to similar successes in the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources.

For more information, contact Cynthia Shaw, or call 248-643-9630.

The Kresge Foundation
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Troy, Michigan 48084

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The Kresge Foundation is a $3.1 billion private, national foundation that seeks to influence the quality of life for future generations through its support of nonprofit organizations in six fields of interest: arts and culture, community development, education, the environment, health, and human services.

About Us

The Kresge Foundation is a $3.1 billion private, national foundation that supports communities by building the capacity of nonprofit organizations in six fields: health, the environment, arts and culture, education, human services and community development. Kresge seeks to influence the quality of life for future generations by creating access and opportunity in underserved communities, improving the health of low-income people, supporting artistic expression, assisting in the revitalization of Detroit, and advancing methods for dealing with global climate change. In 2009, the Board of Trustees approved 404 awards totaling $197 million; $167 million was paid out to grantees over the course of the year. In June 2007, the foundation embarked upon a multi-year expansion of its grantmaking to better address society’s pressing issues. Central to this expansion are nine values, which now serve as the centerpiece of its grantmaking criteria. The values aim to advance low-income opportunity, promote community impact in ways most needed by residents, cultivate innovation and risk taking, support interdisciplinary solutions, foster environmental sustainability, and encourage diversity in board governance. For more information, visit