Report on sabbatical of Anthony Starfield, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the University of Minnesota

The main objective of this short sabbatical was to work on a project with the daunting title of "Multidisciplinary analysis of alternative farmland-retirement strategies for restoring San Joaquin valley ecosystems." The components of this project include economics, water rights, hydrology, and wildlife habitat, primarily for the kit fox. The challenge, as I saw it, was to define the problem as carefully as one could and then look for relevant approaches to analyzing it. My main contribution was to argue that

it was futile to search for the "best" pattern of farmland retirements when the socio-political and economic considerations are in flux. Decisions to retire land will in fact be taken sporadically and opportunistically. Our objective should be to interject our knowledge and concerns about the hydrology and kit foxes into decisions whenever they are made.

With this in mind, I worked with the hydrologists to define a suite of simulations they could make which would provide rules for a number of different likely scenarios. These scenarios really require a

three-dimensional analysis; their code is only quasi-three-dimensional. We managed to find a suite of scenarios that are realistic, potentially useful, and can indeed be simulated with the current code.

Similarly, I worked with the kit fox experts and Dr. Robert Haight to modify Dr Haight’s code to address the kit fox question in what we are calling an "incremental" way. The concept of an incremental approach to problems like this is potentially interesting, and Dr Haight, as well as Dr Hugh Possingham, are planning to pursue it.

In addition to work on this project, I thoroughly enjoyed my interactions with sabbatarians, post-docs and nceas staff. The decision to spend only 3 months at NCEAS was a very poor one, unless perhaps it too reflects an incremental approach.