Scenarios reflecting conservation value of ratios of forest, farm, and development on an urban-rural gradient.
The southern Piedmont ecoregion of the eastern U.S. is expected to see a >100% increase in urbanization that will likely drive continued loss of forest cover and farmland. This simplification of the landscape necessitates integration of data and perspectives to effectively prepare for future change, specifically to better prioritize, proportion, and distribute land not developed (i.e., both farm and forest). Based on literature of land cover change modelling, we selected four different land cover change scenarios that prioritized conservation and ecosystem services in the Upstate SC region of the southern Piedmont. These scenarios represent plausible policies in the study region: specifically, increased urban land cover, increased fragmentation of forest cover, increased conservation of forest cover, and decreased agricultural land cover. Scenarios link locally and regionally based ecological and economic data sets collected across spatial scales. Importantly, while conservation scenarios are frequently based on ideals and ignore economic constraints, these scenarios reflect measured values of willingness to pay for forest cover. Specifically, we consider how the amount and spatial arrangement of land affects the relationship between conservation and ecosystem services priorities in each scenario.
Residents expressed a willing to pay over $19 per person per year to increase forest cover by five percent within ten years. Residents were less likely to pay for an increase of 15% forest cover, suggesting a threshold for potential forest conservation. Evaluation of ecosystem services and biodiversity priorities in the scenarios suggests that optimizing biodiversity and ecosystem services is challenging. For example under the increased conservation of forest cover scenario, where forest cover was increased by 5%, there was no relationship between bird species richness and carbon sequestration. However, there was a positive correlation between carbon sequestration and storm water control and property values. The latter suggests that land cover planning can provide direct and indirect benefits to residents.
Consideration and identification of conservation opportunities is necessary in the face of change. Efforts in planning for change are improved when local and regional planners, corporations, conservation practitioners, and policy makers are able to consider plausible conservation options (and their shortcomings) that fall within economic constraints. Scenarios, linked with local data, are applicable to regional discussions on planning in the Piedmont and broadly relevant to those interested in mitigating the negative impacts of impending urbanization and forest and farmland loss.