ATHENS, Ga.--Let's say you own a hundred acres of forest in the mountains of North Carolina. You want the land to stay beautiful, but you also want to sell some of the timber to put your kids through college. Years ago, your best bet would be to cut and pray, but not any more.
A new decision support system that researchers from the University of Georgia have helped design could make your job vastly easier. The system, whose development is directed by the U. S. Forest Service and called NED, is near completion. Instead of having to make a decision strictly on board footage, a manager will soon get help designing a program that might, for example, maintain a continuous overhead canopy, discourage exotic plant and animal species, enhance habitat for the black bear--and still focus on cutting the proper trees for your college fund.
"The development of techniques to deal with these once-intractable problems has been amazing over the past few years," said Dr. Donald Nute, head of the Artificial Intelligence Center and the department of philosophy at UGA. "But in order for them to work, we first have to have deep knowledge of a problem area."
Ecosystems are complex hierarchies. Managing for a single species or problem has sometimes led to disastrous results, and it is now clear that multiple-use management is essential for the best use of any area. The problems are vast and entangling. How can you manage for timber yield if it threatens an already endangered species? How can you manage for an endangered species if it means you won't have college money for your kids?
The answer often lies in the use of decision support systems (DSS),
computer programs that help managers make decisions in situations where human
judgment is important but where limitations on the ability of judgment impede
decision-making. These systems have been in use, in one form or another, for
nearly 20 years, but with increasingly powerful and sophisticate
Contact: Phil Williams
University of Georgia