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Harvard Forest Symposium Abstract 2014

  • Title: Using stakeholder-defined land use scenarios to advance science and inform decision-making at regional scales
  • Primary Author: Jonathan Thompson (Harvard Forest)
  • Additional Authors: Kathy Fallon Lambert (Harvard Forest)
  • Abstract:

    Anticipating landscape- to regional-scale impacts of land use on ecosystems and the services they provide is a central challenge for scientists, policy makers, and resource managers. By analyzing multiple plausible land use scenarios, scientists can bypass the inherent uncertainties associated with prediction within socio-ecological systems. Furthermore, by engaging with stakeholders to develop the scenarios scientists can maximize the legitimacy, salience, and uptake of the results. The Massachusetts Future Scenarios Project integrated these elements into a participatory research initiative that developed, simulated, and analyzed four land use scenarios: Recent Trends, Opportunistic Growth, Regional Reliance, and Forests as Infrastructure. Using consistent assumptions about major drivers, relationships, and constraints, the narrative scenarios describe futures that include different amounts, intensities, and spatial configurations of land development, timber harvesting, farmland expansion, and forest conservation for the entire state. All scenarios include the assumption that average temperature and precipitation will increase with climate change (consistent with the IPCC A1FI climate forecast). The scenarios were simulated using a modified version of the spatially interactive, process-based forest landscape model, LANDIS-II. Simulation outputs were then evaluated in terms of their impacts on direct human uses of the landscape (developed land, agricultural land, timber volume), ecosystem services (carbon storage, flood regulation, water purification), and biodiversity conservation (forest composition, interior habitat). The evaluation identified tradeoffs between dispersed residential development and most ecosystem services and habitat metrics. In addition, the scenarios showed synergies between increased harvest volume obtained through through long-term silvicultural planning with restoration of forest composition and structure, with only minimal impacts on carbon storage. Overall, the results yield valuable insights related to the influence of landscape trajectories on future land cover, tradeoffs between benefits that accrue to individual landowners and those that serve a broader segment of society, trade-offs and synergies among different uses and bundles of ecosystem services, and the elements that are essential to increasing the impact of science on conservation and land use policy. We found linking participatory research with decision making through a process of continuous engagement, scenario experiments, and public outreach enhances both ecological understanding and the broader value of science to society.

  • Research Category: Conservation and Management, Ecological Informatics and Modelling, Regional Studies