The effectiveness of voluntary policy to conserve small ecological features across heterogeneous and urbanizing landscapes: Vernal pool conservation in Maine
Desert springs, rocky outcrops, and vernal pools are examples of small landscape features that provide valuable ecosystem services. A law to protect vernal pools in Maine is one of the few laws designed specifically to protect small natural features. There is widespread interest in modifying and updating the law. However, there is still great uncertainty over how thoroughly the law is being enforced and how local governments and landowners are reacting and interacting with the law. Therefore, before moving forward with any changes to the law a much better understanding of how vernal pool conservation occurs on the landscape is needed.
To do this we build a model that simulates local government and landowner behavior in Maine given the current law and potential amendments to the law. The model is a function of 1) landscape type, 2) community and landowner behavior and attitudes toward small feature conservation, and 3) law guidelines and restrictions. Landscapes vary by degrees of human development and pool abundance and distribution (e.g., clustered versus dispersed). We measure human development with several metrics, including land cover type mix, percent of impervious land, or housing and population densities. Community and landowner behavior and attitudes toward small feature conservation vary in several ways. For example, in some communities political leaders may want to strictly enforce the law but landowners may not wish to cooperate and in other communities political leaders may be ambivalent about enforcing the law but some landowners may be very interested in pool conservation.
By simulating our behavioral model over every potential landscape, community and landowner objective, and pool conservation law guideline we predict how the law – either the current version or a potential version – will play out in the various communities across Maine. For example, we can predict how much more pool conservation a specific amendment to the law would generate in highly developed communities with a few pools and strong conservation preferences versus a rural community with many pools but little interest in enforcing and abiding by the law.
This model will help improve the current implementation of the law and can recommend amendments that would generate the greatest additional conservation across the physically and sociologically comlex Maine landscape.