A framework for setting land conservation priorities using multi-criteria scoring and an optimal fund allocation strategy

TitleA framework for setting land conservation priorities using multi-criteria scoring and an optimal fund allocation strategy
Publication TypeMiscellaneous
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsDavis, FW, Stoms, DM, Costello, CJ, Machado, EA, Metz, J, Gerrard, R, Andelman, S, Regan, H, Church, R
Keywordsmarginal value conservation planning cost-effectiveness GIS Sierra Nevada California Legacy Project

The California Legacy Project (CLP) mission is "to enable the State and its partners in conservation to develop and implement a strategic and inclusive approach to conserving and restoring California's lands and natural resources." In Spring 2001 The Resources Agency of California contracted with the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at UC Santa Barbara to convene a working group to help bring systematic conservation planning theory and methods to bear on the design and implementation of CLP. The framework described in this report is one of the products from that working group. The framework is intended to serve the dual purpose of helping decision makers to evaluate current opportunities (e.g., current proposal applications for State conservation funds) and to help planners develop longer term conservation strategies that highlight general areas, species and communities for more focused analysis and collaborative planning. We do not present a plan or "blueprint" for future conservation activities. Instead, we offer an analytical, data-driven planning process that could be applied to ongoing conservation assessments and evaluations by State conservation planning staff and collaborating organizations over the State or regions of the State. We organize the planning framework based on a hierarchy of conservation goals and objectives, each of which is further elaborated in terms of specific objectives, criteria, and sources of evidence. At the highest level we distinguish three categories of conservation goals: Resource Production Capacity, Natural Capital, and Public Open Space. Under Natural Capital we distinguish terrestrial biodiversity from wetland and aquatic biodiversity. This report focuses on terrestrial biodiversity. The framework applies GIS technology to map conservation value and investment priorities based on available spatial data, derived indices and simple algebraic functions. A planning region is divided into sites and each site is scored in terms of its marginal conservation value, that is, the incremental value added to the current system of conservation lands by making the next conservation investment in that site. Site prioritization depends on the resources the site contains, the threat to those resources, and the conservation cost of mitigating that threat. The strategic objective is to allocate conservation funds among a set of candidate sites such that there is the greatest possible resource value remaining at the end of the planning period. We present a measure of ecological condition based on land use, land cover, roads, housing density and forest structure. The condition index is mapped for 2000 A.D. and 2040 A.D. (based on projected patterns of housing development) and the difference between the two is applied as a measure of threat to biodiversity. We then present formal measures for five different values that places can have for conserving terrestrial biodiversity: 1) hotspots of rare threatened and endangered species, 2) areas supporting vulnerable habitat types, 3) unique landscapes, 4) wildlands for area dependent species, and 5) areas to expand the size of existing reserves. We apply the framework to prioritize new conservation investments on private lands in the Sierra Bioregion. Our purpose is to demonstrate the end-to-end use of the framework and attention should be focused on the process, not the actual products. We first use existing, readily available data to map resource values and threats to produce maps of marginal conservation value without consideration of site cost. Spatial patterns in site value differ considerably among the five conservation criteria. We then use a crude estimate of land prices and allocate a hypothetical budget of $44 million to 50 sites scattered across the region. The framework can also be applied to other conservation concerns such as aquatic biodiversity, production lands, public open space, cultural resources and recreational opportunities. In a separate report we demonstrate its application for cropland conservation in the Bay Delta Bioregion. Our initial experiences in applying the framework to terrestrial biodiversity and cropland are very encouraging, but testing and refinement of the indices and value functions models are still needed and are currently underway.