Better Land-Use Decisions

Principal Investigator(s): 

Stephen Polasky, Derric Pennington, Joe Fargione, Carlos Durigan

Many critical land-use decisions all over the world are being made without the benefit of understanding the full implications of those decisions — the full economic returns, impacts on biodiversity, and the benefits derived from nature that alternative uses of these lands might provide or maintain. Could a new data-driven framework — one that integrates and compares tradeoffs among multiple land-use options and their relative values — generate greater, more durable returns for nature and people’s prosperity?

To help overcome the knowledge gap about the impacts of land use decisions, scientists have developed a theoretical framework that takes advantage of new enhanced predictive models and sophisticated economic measures. This Working Group’s approach will incorporate the impacts of both markets and policies on land-use decisions. It will use innovative models for its U.S. work that explicitly incorporate the market feedback effects of large-scale land-use changes (e.g., from forest to crops), which often shift the supply of key commodities, and therefore alter both commodity prices and net economic returns to land (land-use modeling based only in geography typically fails to incorporate dollar measures of net returns to land and price feedbacks from land-use changes). This framework could enable decision-makers to see with unprecedented breadth and depth the full range of potential tradeoffs different land-use choices might yield among social, economic, and environmental values.

The Better Land-Use Decisions Working Group will take the framework from applied theory to the real world by piloting its application to land-use decision-making for specific geographies in the United States (the Northern Great Plains and the Sage Grouse Initiative) and Brazil (Amazon Region Protected Areas program, the Brazilian Pantanal, and the National Forest Code). The framework will identify land-use scenarios that simultaneously improve human well-being and create sustainable conservation solutions. Additionally, by identifying all the tradeoffs among different choices, the framework could enable the most effective and efficient use of the hundreds of millions of conservation dollars that are earmarked for land protection every year.

This project is supported by the Science for Nature and People (SNAP) initiative, generously funded through founding grants by Shirley and Harry Hagey, Steve and Roberta Denning, Seth Neiman, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Photo Credit: Sage Grouse Initiative

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