Cooperative Research Units
Education, Research And Technical Assistance For Managing Our Natural Resources
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Using Relational Databases to Improve Structured Decision Making for Natural Resource Management

The Steps of Structured Decision Making


April 2009 - September 2012


A major initiative of the USGS Cooperative Research Unit (CRU) Program is teach and apply formal structured decision making approaches to the management of natural resources. Structured decision making, or SDM, is “an organized approach to identifying and evaluating creative options and making choices in complex decision situations.” In the context of natural resource management, SDM is designed to deliver insight to natural resource decision makers about how well their management objectives may be satisfied by potential alternative courses of action. The SDM process generally involves identifying the natural resource management problem, setting management objectives, identifying potential alternative management actions, estimating the likely consequences of each alternative (often through rigorous quantitative modeling), and then weighing each alternative and identifying trade-offs among alternatives. When the same decision problem is tackled on a recurrent basis, new (updated) information is used to provide fresh perspectives on alternatives, their likely outcomes, and trade-offs. “Adaptive management” is the application of SDM approaches when a decision problem is iterative.

This project proposes to meld the disciplines of computer science and natural resources management, by investigating and developing efficient ways to identify, collect, serve, and analyze data to support state-based natural resources management problems.

Research Products and Activities


  • Cummings, J. W. 2014. Decision support for natural resource management. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Vermont, Burlington, VTDownload  | 
  • Rinehart, K. 2015. Analytical and decision tools for wildlife population and habitat management. PhD Dissertation. University of Vermont, Burlington, VT.Download  | 

Current Staff

Federal Staff: 95

Masters Students: 238

Phd Students: 144

Post Docs: 54

University Staff: 239

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 673

Scientific Publications: 1905

Presentations: 4235



  • Therese DonovanPrincipal Investigator
  • Jonathan CummingsStudent
  • Kurt RinehartStudent
  • Jonathan KatzStudent

Funding Agencies

  • USGS
  • Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department


Cooperative Research Units Program Headquarters Cooperators

  1. U.S. Geological Survey