Scientists at The Wilderness Society are developing a collaborative conservation strategy which designates a portfolio of three management strategies- restoration, innovation and observation- zoned in large, contiguous areas across the landscape.

Scientists at The Wilderness Society (TWS), under the direction of Dr. Greg Aplet, are developing a collaborative conservation strategy that is especially pertinent during the new era of accelerated Climate Change.  In short, the strategy is for society to designate a portfolio of three management strategies, zoned in large, contiguous areas across the landscape:

• Restoration zones where we try to repair the landscape and restore natural ecological patterns and processes that then can adapt to change

• Innovation zones in which the landscape is devoted to innovative management that anticipates climate change and guides ecological change to prepare for it; and, 

• Observation zones in which the landscape is left to change on its own time to serve as a scientific “control” and to hedge against the unintended consequences of active management elsewhere.

The large contiguous areas are essential to minimize the deleterious edge effects that happen when the negative aspects of one zone bleed into the neighboring zone.  The problem and the strategy are detailed more in a short article in the Pinchot Letter. 

Given this strategy, a whole host of questions arise about where and how these zones should be mapped on the landscape. TWS has contracted Conservation Biology Institute (CBI) to help address these spatial challenges. The answers are context specific, so we are building a spatial decision support system (SDSS) to aid with these questions for any given landscape.  A good SDSS combines information and human values in a systematic manner to provide maps, charts, and reports in a variety of easy-to-use formats, including within a web-browser. The CBI/TWS partnership is building a prototype SDSS now, using the Sierra Nevada mountains in California as a pilot study area. The SDSS is to be transparent, and customizable to the politics and ecology of a given region.  Hence, we are building it on top of the Environmental Evaluation Modeling System (EEMS) using ArcGIS models and scripts, and the products are viewable to project advisors via Data Basin and EEMS Explorer (the EEMS graphical user interface in Data Basin).

Some of the methods and specifications for the foundation of the SDSS are as follows: 

• A region of study is divided into a large set of spatially explicit reporting units (or planning units) that cover the region in entirety.

• The end user can choose from a variety of nested regions of study (such as the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Reference Region, the Southern Sierra Nevada, or Sierra National Forest).

• The SDSS is to provide spatially explicit scenarios, each based on a set of parameter values and assumptions.

• For each scenario, each reporting unit in the study region is assigned to one of the three zones.  This is to provide decision support, not decision making.

• Reporting units are selected for one zone or another based on both the composition of the unit as well as its spatial context.

Some of the details about the allocation algorithm are as follows:

• Many composition criteria can be considered; for now, there are 13 relating to the suitability and influence of pre-existing land designations, one regarding fire management, and 3 regarding ecological condition.  For instance, Wilderness Areas are more suitable for the observation zone than the other two zones.

• A representation algorithm makes sure that reporting units allocated to each zone are distributed among one or several elevation bands, and several sub regions. (More geographic classes, such as habitat type, are pending.)

• A preliminary contiguity algorithm ensures that the allocations for each zone are clumped thereby minimizing fragmentation and deleterious edge effects. 

• Addition of a CBI algorithm is pending that will further improve connectivity between core areas of each zone, thereby facilitating species movement within a zone during a changing climate.

The SDSS is currently in the Prototype stage that will undergo an evaluation and another round of development before release to partners. If anyone is interested in providing input, advice, and/or reviews on the work in progress at some point, or simply joining the announcement list, please contact Dr. Greg Aplet or Dr. John Gallo. Please contact Dr. Gallo regarding potential collaborations customizing the SDSS code and methodology for other types of multi-objective allocation projects.

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