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An informal review of the history of new quantitative methods in environmental science, including environmental risk assessment, shows about a 10- to 20-year lag in wide acceptance of such methods by management agencies. To reduce that lag time as innovative methods continue to emerge, environmental scientists will need to work much more intensively with communications specialists on better ways to explain risk analyses and decision-making strategies to non-technical decision makers and the public. Four key uncertainties make such communication difficult: (1) natural variability in both physical and biological processes, (2) imperfect data arising from observation error (i.e., measurement error), (3) incomplete understanding of an environmental system's structure and dynamics, and (4) outcome uncertainty (deviations between realized outcomes and management targets). These uncertainties create risks -- risks to natural populations as well as to people who use them. Examples of these four sources of uncertainty are presented here for Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.). One promising framework for explicitly taking such uncertainties into account was initially developed in the early 1990s by scientific advisors to the International Whaling Commission. They built stochastic models, which essentially were comprehensive formal decision analyses, to derive management procedures (i.e., sampling designs for collecting data, methods to analyze those data, and state-dependent harvest-control rules for use by managers) that were robust to all the uncertainties considered. This method of "Management Strategy Evaluation" or "Management Procedure Evaluation" is now considered the "gold standard" for conducting risk assessments and making risk-management decisions in marine fisheries.
This manuscript is a preprint submission to PeerJ Preprints. It is one of several talks presented at the Daniel Goodman Memorial Symposium, held in Bozeman, Montana, U.S.A. on March 20th and 21st, 2014. The symposium was held in honor of the late Dr. Daniel Goodman, professor of biology and ecology at Montana State University. The symposium focused on the theme of "Decision-making under uncertainty: Risk assessment and the best available science" in the context of applied ecology and environmental science.