The complexity of the issues which touch on everything from energy production and food prices to city planning and recreation requires much more than a "just the facts" type of scientific approach. "We don't want to spend five years collecting data in the field and running models across the watershed to find out that it wasn't the right information," Kucharik says.
Instead the scientists are tackling an integrated approach that combines scientific modeling, field data collection, stakeholder input, public engagement, outreach and education to take a broad view of the many factors at play.
One element is the development of a set of "integrated scenarios" with the help of landowners, policymakers, community members, and other stakeholders to gauge people's perceptions and identify real-world issues and the types of information that will be useful to address them.
"The integrated scenarios will use narratives to help couple scientific models with what the future of the watershed might look like," explains co-principal investigator Adena Rissman, to help people see likely outcomes under various conditions such as climate changes, suburban growth or land-use decisions.
The scientists' goal is not to decide what the future should look like, she emphasizes, but rather to synthesize the best available information to help policymakers and others understand how to work toward a target outcome.
"Whenever you're talking about a public policy question or a political process, it's really the community values that should drive that process and the role of science in that process," says Rissman, who is an assistant professor of forest and wildlife ecology. "There are a lot of different perspectives in the watershed and a lot of different goals that need to be met simultaneously, so the better we can understand the tradeoffs and clarify decisions, the better w
|Contact: Chris Kucharik|
University of Wisconsin-Madison