Many rural communities facing the loss of their agricultural heritage use market interventions such as conservation easements. Simple scoring methods are often used to rank farms for conservation action. These methods generally do not consider all the benefits that farmland provides nor do they appropriately measure the expected benefit of conservation action to achieve social goals cost-effectively. They also tend to be rigid in applying scientific information so that it is difficult to address competing social values in a collaborative planning process. Our research team recently developed a conceptual framework to rectify these limitations (Machado et al. 2003). The specific objective of this mission-related proposal is to implement this framework by developing GIS-based methodology for all criteria for farmland conservation value and improving the multicriteria evaluation methods for combining criteria scores. The project addresses two USDA issues: 5) Agricultural Opportunity and Rural Prosperity (threats to rural communities and opportunities to preserve their character) and 6) Natural Resources and Environmental Quality (maintaining ecosystem values provided by agricultural lands). With guidance from an advisory group, we will synthesize current understanding of the criteria important to society and develop GIS-based procedures for converting spatial data into criteria scores that represent that social value and how it varies over the landscape. The advisory group will ensure that the methodology balances best available science with practicality for implementation. The project will produce tutorials so that rural planners can apply the approach.
Frank W. Davis
December, 2004 to December, 2007