Using optimal land-use scenarios to assess trade-offs between conservation, development, and social values

Vanessa Adams, Robert Pressey, Jorge G Alvarez-Romero

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    Abstract

    Development of land resources can contribute to increased economic productivity but can also negatively affect the extent and condition of native vegetation, jeopardize the persistence of native species, reduce water quality, and erode ecosystem services. Spatial planning must therefore balance outcomes for conservation, development, and social goals. One approach to evaluating these trade-offs is scenario planning. In this paper we demonstrate methods for incorporating stakeholder preferences into scenario planning through both defining scenario objectives and evaluating the scenarios that emerge. In this way, we aim to develop spatial plans capable of informing actual land-use decisions. We used a novel approach to scenario planning that couples optimal land-use design and social evaluation of environmental outcomes. Four land-use scenarios combined differences in total clearing levels (10% and 20%) in our study region, the Daly Catchment Australia, with the presence or absence of spatial precincts to concentrate irrigated agriculture. We used the systematic conservation planning tool Marxan with Zones to optimally plan for multiple land-uses that met objectives for both conservation and development. We assessed the performance of the scenarios in terms of the number of objectives met and the degree to which existing land-use policies were compromised (e.g., whether clearing limits in existing guidelines were exceeded or not). We also assessed the land-use scenarios using expected stakeholder satisfaction with changes in the catchment to explore how the scenarios performed against social preferences. There were a small fraction of conservation objectives with high conservation targets (100%) that could not be met due to current land uses; all other conservation and development objectives were met in all scenarios. Most scenarios adhered to the existing clearing guidelines with only marginal exceedances of limits, indicating that the scenario objectives were compatible with existing policy. We found that two key stakeholder groups, agricultural and Indigenous residents, had divergent satisfaction levels with the amount of clearing and agricultural development. Based on the range of benefits and potential adverse impacts of each scenario, we suggest that the 10% clearing scenarios are most aligned with stakeholder preferences and best balance preferences across stakeholder groups. Our approach to scenario planning is applicable generally to exploring the potential conflicts between goals for conservation and development. Our case study is particularly relevant to current discussion about increased agricultural and pastoral development in northern Australia.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-20
    Number of pages20
    JournalPLoS One
    Volume11
    Issue number6
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

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