CSDM and Public Participation in Biodiversity Conservation Planning

1. Background

Biodiversity conservation and enhancement is a major component of much contemporary land-use planning. Biodiversity planning is inherently spatial, since decisions must be made as to where reserves, corridors, etc. are to be placed-in particular, how much land is to be set aside for biodiversity conservation, and what kinds of activities will be permitted in which locations. These decisions are typically complex and conflictual, owing to the unavoidable tradeoffs inherent in protecting or developing specific sites, and the differential impacts on various stakeholder groups. Increasingly, public involvement is becoming an explicit step in the decision- making process, as a means both of educating affected people as to the need for biodiversity conservation, and to solicit their preferences and ideas concerning possible alternatives for conservation. The variety of participating parties-private landholders, corporations, local, regional, and federal government, and the general public-involved in biodiversity conservation decisionmaking poses a challenge for design of systems that can facilitate collaboration among these groups.

One very tangible geographical contribution in the area of biodiversity conservation planning involves the increasingly widespread use of spatially-based information systems (Davis 1995). For example, the California Resources Agency is building a networked computer information system called the California Environmental Resources Evaluation System, or CERES. CERES is designed to assist in natural resource planning, research, and education, and is currently focusing on supplying information for biodiversity planning in pilot projects distributed through the state. Spatial information has long been used by decisionmakers; in geography and GIS, a good deal of work in this area has gone under the rubric of spatial decision support systems, or SDSS (Gould and Densham 1991). Recently, some geographers have advanced a slightly different model of how information can be used in planning, under the name of spatial understanding support systems, or SUSS (Couclelis and Monmonier 1995). SUSS espouses a bottom-up mode of planning that explicitly recognizes the role of affected people, and anticipates that conflict is inevitable among these groups.

SDSS and SUSS models point to the necessity of identifying workable designs for collaborative spatial decision-making (CSDM) systems that may play a crucial role in facilitating resolution of the extremely complex and contentious spatial allocation questions that have arisen in the case of biodiversity conservation planning. Following is a summary of two key sites currently involved in major biodiversity planning efforts which could serve as test sites for CSDM research and development: (a) federally-administered coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest, and (b) the coastal sage scrub (CSS) zone of the south coast of California.

2. Study Sites

Both the Pacific Northwest and the south coast of California have experienced significant landscape transformation in recent times, and are now the sites of major, nationally-recognized biodiversity conservation programs, which will undergo significant development, implementation, and modification in the near future. Geographic information is playing a central role in both of these programs: in the Pacific Northwest, one pilot project is testing its application for community-based biodiversity planning (Doak 1994a), and the California South Coast region is one of the four pilot areas for the CERES project summarized above.

Pacific Northwest forests have been the site of some of the most significant conflicts over biodiversity loss and conservation in recent U.S. history. The Clinton administration forest plan, known as Option 9, is in the process of being implemented. Its specific coverage involves public forests in Washington, Oregon, and northern California. A major component of the plan is to manage the region's federal forests so as to protect terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity associated with late-successional and old-growth forests (U.S.D.A.-U.S.D.I. 1994). Southern California is also the site of an innovative biodiversity conservation program, designed in part to avoid the serious conflicts between stakeholder groups that has plagued resolution of the Pacific Northwest dispute (U.S.D.I. and C.D.F.G. 1993). It is being jointly monitored by the state of California, which is piloting its Natural Communities Conservation Planning (NCCP) program in the coastal sage scrub zone of southwestern California (Davis, Stine, and Stoms 1994), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has recently listed the California gnatcatcher, a sage scrub-dependent species, as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (U.S.D.I. 1993a, 1993b). Some of the most advanced planning efforts in the coastal sage scrub zone have been undertaken in San Diego County. Two of these include the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) surrounding the San Diego metropolitan area, and the Multiple Habitat Conservation Program (MHCP) involving municipalities and county-administrated unincorporated land in the northwest portion of the county (Dudek and Associates 1994). One concrete outcome will be a Habitat Conservation Plan (Beatley 1994), a federally-approved means of coordinating land use with protection of the gnatcatcher.

Both the Pacific Northwest and the south coast of California are socioeconomically diverse regions, with markedly differing views held on biodiversity issues by their inhabitants. Some representation of these diverse views is provided by the various public stakeholder groups participating in biodiversity planning efforts, such as environmentalists and timber industry supporters in the Pacific Northwest, and landowners, housing industry advocates, and environmentalists in California. The near future will be a volatile period in the development and implementation of biodiversity conservation plans in both regions. Although a good deal of planning has already begun, a number of details still need to be worked out, public agreement secured, and necessary regulatory documents (e.g., environmental impact statements) prepared. At the same time, national, regional, and local factors may have profound impacts on the overall process. For instance, the Endangered Species Act-the primary legal force behind protection of spotted owl and gnatcatcher habitat-is slated for reauthorization in the current Congressional session, and it could possibly be substantially weakened from its current form. At the regional level, fluctuations in economic health may have a serious impact on peoples' willingness to support biodiversity conservation programs, especially in southwestern California, where much of the habitat to be conserved must be purchased by means of some form of public revenues. At the local level, communities active in conservation planning will struggle to craft and implement alternatives that satisfy local interests as well as biological requirements.

Another important feature of the Pacific Northwest forest plan and the NCCP process in San Diego County is that both have provisions to involve local communities in planning. In San Diego County, representatives from all affected communities sit on advisory boards for the overall MSCP and MHCP plans. It is likely that most communities will modify these plans-possibly in substantial form-to meet local interests and needs. In the Pacific Northwest, Option 9 includes a provision to involve local communities in the forest planning process, and to encourage innovative and experimental ways to protect biodiversity while permitting a fair amount of logging to occur as well. The zones where these community-driven plans are to be formulated in the near future are called Adaptive Management Areas (AMAs). A total of ten AMAs have been selected in Washington, Oregon, and northern California, ranging in size from 92,000 to 488,500 acres (Doak 1994b).

3. Research Interests

The I-17 Call for Participation mentioned five specific topics of particular interest under this NCGIA initiative; all are clearly applicable in the case of public involvement in biodiversity conservation planning. Topics number four (identifying means to resolve conflicts over spatial decisions) and five (characterization of CSDM processes in specific domains such as biodiversity planning) are particularly relevant. A CSDM for biodiversity conservation planning would ideally facilitate a two-way, generally asynchronous flow of information between all significant members of the decisionmaking process: scientists involved in conservation modelling, policymakers attempting to translate scientific results into workable schemes, and the variety of public stakeholders-landholders, local residents, employees of affected industries, environmentalists, etc.-who have an interest in the final decision. Examples of this communication could include: visualization of biodiversity conservation alternatives as landscape scenarios in space and time; sketching and explaining areas of particular concern; positing and evaluating new, previously untried alternatives; posting and replying to verbal or graphical queries by other groups; representing the rationale for scientists' recommendations in a manner accessible to laypeople; and representing spatial and non-spatial characteristics of the varying popular attitudes and beliefs that bear upon biodiversity conservation.

One research interest I have in this regard involves the potential applicability of a distributed, collaboratively-developed, visualization-based information system, which would represent a composite of spatial information commonly used in biodiversity planning, and the diverse forms of information the general public use to develop their positions on biodiversity conservation. The intent would be to provide a concrete and locally-meaningful basis for discussing biodiversity conservation options within and between various stakeholder groups. The relative abundance of spatial data in the biodiversity conservation planning efforts considered in the Pacific Northwest and California renders visualization a potential tool in CSDM. One challenge, however, is to translate this abundance of data into meaningful forms that can be grasped by most people. In the Pacific Northwest, relevant geographic data have been compiled in raster form (400 meter cell resolution) into a Spatial Unified Data Base (SPUD) for the Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team initiative that resulted in Option 9 (U.S.D.A.-U.S.D.I. 1993b). Much more geographic information exists, however, for some AMAs (Doak 1994b). In the case of California's South Coast, data are especially replete in San Diego County, through the efforts of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), which serves as the lead agency for the MHCP, and a primary technical subcontractor for the MSCP. SANDAG maintains the Regional Information System for the county, has used it to make a series of future projections through the year 2015, and also stores all georeferenced data on the MSCP and MHCP efforts (SANDAG 1993). Development and analysis of planning options, both for internal and external (e.g., Environmental Impact Statement) purposes, can build on these GIS databases, providing data to construct visualizations of future alternatives and their impacts. Visualizations of historical change can also incorporate existing GIS-based datasets, including vegetation maps developed between 1930 and 1940 for the state of California (Wieslander 1946), and a SPUD digital version of the 1936 survey of forestlands in Oregon and Washington.

A possible method involves development of one collaborative visualization-based information system for a specific study site from each region, and expanding it based on stakeholder group feedback and developments in biodiversity conservation planning and implementation over time. Examples of initial major graphical components of the system could include (a) a map of the study area, with aerial still and video photography of the site and important components (e.g., affected habitat and species) as available, (b) 2D comparative visualizations of short and longer-term historical changes in land use and vegetation/habitat for the local study site and its region, including temporally-referenced graphical economic, demographic, and habitat indicators, with 2.5D (terrain) visualizations developed for portions of study sites or study sites of smaller spatial extent, and (c) similar sets of visualizations depicting three or four biodiversity conservation planning alternatives, and their likely near-future (e.g., year 2010) impacts on the landscape and key indicators. Visualizations would be developed in consultation with several recent multiauthored discussions and reviews (Hearnshaw and Unwin 1994; MacEachren and Taylor 1994; Raper 1994) , which offer advice on their cartographic, cognitive, and technical dimensions. All components would be incorporated into a hypermedia-based information system such as ArcView to allow simple user navigation during interviews.

4. Initial Activities

In preparation for the September 1995 I-17 planning meeting, I propose to spend one month this summer performing initial research on the potential of CSDM in biodiversity conservation planning in the Pacific Northwest and southern California (specifically, San Diego County). Principal activities include: (a) identifying and gaining background information on potential study sites within the two regions mentioned above, and discussing with decisionmakers possible CSDM contributions to the biodiversity planning processes taking place in these sites, and (b) developing a simple prototype visualization-based system as outlined above, to explore (together with decisionmakers) the kinds of functionality that could be implemented with existing software such as ArcView (this objective would necessitate advanced training in ArcView/Avenue, or provision of graduate research assistance skilled in ArcView/Avenue).

Possible choices for study sites in San Diego County include Poway (1990 pop. 43,500), which has shown a relatively high degree of concern for land-use planning in the recent past, San Marcos (pop. 39,000), which experienced tremendous growth in the latter 1980s, and Chula Vista (pop. 135,000), which still has significant amounts of developable vacant land within its municipal boundaries. Possible choices in the Pacific Northwest include the Applegate AMA (277,500 acres) located south of Medford and Ashland in southern Oregon, which has a local resource management planning group that predates its AMA designation, and is the site of a proposed distributed spatial information network (Doak 1994a), the Central Cascades AMA (155,500 acres) east of Eugene, Oregon, which exhibits a wide and generally divisive spectrum of opinion among its nearby communities on issues of forest use, and the Finney AMA (98,500 acres) in south-central Washington, in which nearly 90 percent of its area consists of late successional/old-growth forests or owl habitat.

5. Biographical Information

Dr. Proctor is Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He holds a M.S. in Environmental Science and Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Geography, from the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests focus on public conflicts over biodiversity loss and conservation in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and southern California, and specifically their ethical and ideological basis (i.e., the origin, content, role, and outcome of relevant popular attitudes and beliefs). Representative publications in this area include the following:

Proctor, James D. 1992. The owl, the forest, and the trees: Eco-ideological conflict in the Pacific Northwest. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

__________. 1995. Will the real land ethic please stand up? To appear in Journal of Forestry (93:9).

__________. 1995. Whose nature? The contested terrain of ancient forests. To appear in Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature, ed. William Cronon. New York: W.W. Norton.

6. References Cited

Beatley, Timothy. 1994. Habitat conservation planning: Endangered species and urban growth. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Couclelis, Helen, and Mark Monmonier. 1995. Using SUSS to resolve NIMBY: How spatial understanding support systems can help with the "Not in My Back Yard" syndrome. To appear in Geographical Systems.

Davis, Frank W. 1995. Improving biodiversity data and information flows among scientists, policy makers and managers. To appear in Bioscience.

__________, Peter A. Stine, and David M. Stoms. 1994. Distribution and conservation status of coastal sage scrub in southwestern California. Journal of Vegetation Science 5: 743-756.

Doak, Sam C. 1994a. Enhancing local capacity to use spatial information in ecosystem management. Pacific GIS, Portland Oregon, October.

__________. 1994b. Preliminary report: Adaptive Management Areas status and needs assessment. Pacific GIS, Portland Oregon, October.

Dudek and Associates, Inc. 1994. Phase I MHCP Executive Summary. Prepared for San Diego Association of Governments, May.

Gould, Michael J., and Paul J. Densham. 1991. Spatial decision support systems: A bibliography. National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis Technical Report 91-9, June.

SANDAG. 1993. Regional information system overview. San Diego Association of Governments, December.

U.S.D.A.-U.S.D.I. 1993a. Draft supplemental environmental impact statement on management of habitat for late-successional and old-growth forest species within the range of the northern spotted owl. Portland, Oregon: U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

__________. 1993b. Forest ecosystem management: An ecological, economic, and social assessment. Report of the Forest Ecosystem Assessment Team, July.

__________. 1994. Final supplemental environmental impact statement on management of habitat for late-successional and old-growth forest species within the range of the northern spotted owl. Portland, Oregon: U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

U.S.D.I. 1993a. Determination of threatened status for the coastal California gnatcatcher; final rule. Federal Register 58(March 30): 16742-57.

__________. 1993b. Proposed special rule to allow take of the threatened coastal California gnatcatcher. Federal Register 58(March 30): 16758-59.

U.S.D.I. and C.D.F.G. 1993. Coastal California gnatcatcher and natural community conservation planning. U.S.D.I. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, October.

Wieslander, A.E. 1946. Forest areas, timber volumes and vegetation types in California. California Forest and Range Experiment Station, Berkeley Forest Survey Release No. 4.