Getting the balance right
For economic development to be sustainable it needs to respect the different values people have for the region
We developed a conservation plan for the Daly Catchment using a novel scenario-planning approach coupled with optimal land-use design
We found that scenarios involving 10% clearing are most aligned with stakeholder preferences and best balance impacts and benefits across stakeholder groups
Developing our land resources can increase economic productivity but it can also have adverse impacts on native vegetation cover, native species, water quality, and a range of ecosystem services. For land and economic development to be sustainable it needs to respect the different values people have for the region, and balance decisions across economic, environmental and social values. How can the values of different stakeholders be integrated into the process?
We designed a development and conservation plan for the Daly Catchment in the Northern Territory which illustrates how this might be achieved. We used a novel scenario-planning approach that couples optimal land-use design and social evaluation of environmental outcomes (Adams et al, 2016).
Understanding diverse resident values
For development to be sustainable, land and water policies need to protect the diverse values of residents in the catchment and direct development towards suitable land. The first step is therefore to understand resident values. We sent a survey to residents in the Daly Catchment asking people to identify what aspects of life in the catchment were most important to them and how satisfied they would be with environmental changes in the future (changes such as the clearing of native vegetation). Over 200 residents participated in the survey (about 10% of the households in the catchment).
Overall people ranked biodiversity and socio-cultural aspects of life in the catchment as being most important (Adams et al, 2014; and see Figure 1). For example, the statement ‘It is important to keep the area in good condition for future generations’ was the most strongly agreed to across the group.
Commercial values were ranked the least important across the group. These results reflect what we heard from residents in community forums: that having a livelihood is important but there are other reasons people like to live in the catchment.
Integrating values into land use planning
We used the survey results in two innovative ways. The first was to set objectives for our land-use scenarios and the second was to evaluate the performance of the scenarios across the full range of values that residents hold. Our scenarios were designed to consider variable levels of land clearing to support development and different approaches to directing this clearing to suitable land (see Figure 2 for maps of final four scenarios).
Importantly, our survey identified that some stakeholder groups had different priorities. In particular, people who earn an income from agriculture and indigenous people. People connected with agriculture ranked commercial values much higher than indigenous people (who ranked biodiversity and social-cultural values higher).
Because of this, we estimated how satisfied these different groups would be with changes in the catchment associated with our different land use scenarios (Figure 2). For each scenario we identified possible changes in the catchment and then, based on our survey results, we estimated whether our stakeholder groups would be more or less satisfied than they currently are with life in the catchment.
We found that the change in clearing and agriculture in the catchment associated with our scenarios impacted on our stakeholder groups differently: Agricultural stakeholders would be much more satisfied and Indigenous stakeholders would be much less satisfied.
Other aspects of development such as changes in the number of people living in the catchment, changes to the water level in the Daly associated with water extractions for cropping and associated changes in fish numbers all result in decreased satisfaction across all stakeholder groups. This means that any future development needs to be carefully evaluated in terms of these changes to balance out both the benefits and costs to residents’ well-being.
Based on the range of benefits and potential adverse impacts of each scenario, we suggest that the scenarios involving 10% clearing are most aligned with stakeholder preferences and best balance impacts and benefits across stakeholder groups. Our approach to scenario planning allows for changes in ecosystem services and therefore potential conflicts between goals and stakeholder preferences to be quantified and negotiated during the planning process.
Developing land and water resources is important for increasing economic productivity but can also have negative impacts on the environment. Getting development right means bringing together scientific evidence and public values to inform good land and water resource policies. Doing this means we can maintain ecosystems and the services they deliver across the range of diverse values held by people.
Note: This research was supported by the NERP Northern Australia Hub.
More info: Vanessa Adams firstname.lastname@example.org
Adams VM, RL Pressey & JG Álvarez-Romero (2016). Using Optimal Land-Use Scenarios to Assess Trade-Offs between Conservation, Development, and Social Values. PLoS ONE 11:e0158350.
Adams VM, RL Pressey & N Stoeckl (2014). Navigating trade-offs in land-use planning: Integrating human well-being into objective setting. Ecology and Society 19:53. http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-07168-190453
Adams VM & RL Pressey (2014). Uncertainties around the implementation of a clearing-control policy in a unique catchment in Northern Australia: Exploring equity issues and balancing competing objectives. PLoS ONE 9:e96479.