Landscape planning for biodiversity conservation in agricultural regions: A case study from the Wheatbelt of Western Australia
Biodiversity Technical Paper, No. 2
Robert J. Lambeck, CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Ecology
Commonwealth of Australia, 1999
ISBN 0 6422 1423 9
Chapter 3 - Integrating biodiversity conservation with other land uses
Land management in production landscapes is largely concerned with identifying the land uses and management regimes which are best suited to different parts of the landscape. Where the sole objective is to maximise profits in the short term this is simply a matter of determining the land capability of the various land units and applying the most profitable land use, or sequence of land uses to those units. These calculations are based on factors such as market prices, potential yields and management costs. Land-use management becomes much more difficult when the manager is attempting to deal with a number of objectives, some of which are less directly related to profits but which compete for land which is valuable for production. The different time scales required to address some of these objectives will present additional difficulties. Conventional production objectives have tended to be managed with a view to short-term outcomes, whereas land conservation and nature conservation will generate benefits over a much longer time frame. The challenge then becomes one of apportioning the landscape in a way that ensures satisfactory performance on all objectives with minimum impact on farm profits. In order to make informed decisions about how different portions of a landscape should be managed to meet a range of objectives it is necessary to determine, for each objective, what land uses need to be represented, in what quantities, and what parts of the landscape are best suited for those uses. If this can be determined, it is then necessary to combine the different land uses in a way that maximises profits but also meets other objectives.
An important issue that needs to be addressed when allocating land among different uses is the impact on one goal of implementing an action which addresses another. For example, what is the impact on yields and therefore on profits, if land is allocated to nature conservation? It is essential to be able to determine the extent to which different objectives will be met by different landscape designs and to be able to explore alternative designs and examine their implications.
For the current planning exercise the Wallatin Catchment was treated as a single management unit in order to assess the effect of scale on management decisions and production outcomes. In the land-allocation scenarios developed in this case study, property boundaries were removed in order to determine how the catchment would best be managed without the constraints of current patterns of property ownership. While conceptually challenging for landholders, this analysis enables an assessment of whether the benefits to be gained from whole catchment management exceed the sum of the benefits from managing each property individually. Increasingly, calls are being made for 'integrated catchment management' but the benefits from attempting such an exercise have yet to be demonstrated. If clear benefits can be shown, this may provide an incentive for considering planning and management approaches which enable those benefits to be distributed equitably throughout the catchment group.
Because of the complexity of addressing multiple goal planning, it is often useful to use a decision-support system to help explore alternative strategies. Essential features of a decision-support tool are:
- An ability to reflect the interests of each of the different stakeholder groups.
- Transparency in the decision-making process so that all stakeholders can see how outcomes are arrived at and how their interests are performing.
- An ability to quantify the extent to which different objectives are being met.
- An ability to determine the impact on all other objectives of allocating a land unit to a particular objective.
- An ability to run 'what if' scenarios to assess the likely impact of alternative decisions.
For the Wallatin Creek case study, the land allocation package LUPIS (Land Use Planning and Information System (Ive & Cocks 1988)) was chosen. This choice was made on the basis that (i) it is conceptually simple (ii) it is not dependent on the quantification of all variables that are used in decision making and (iii) it has the capacity to reflect social preferences through a transparent weighting system. Other approaches, such as mathematical programming, have been have been used to address multi-criteria planning problems (Field 1973; Cocklin 1989a,b), but their computational requirements and conceptual complexity can potentially alienate stakeholder groups.
The essential elements of the planning process include;
- stakeholder participation;
- identification of the main land management issues;
- identification of the full range of potential land uses;
- assessment of land suitability/capability for those uses; and
- development of guidelines for land allocation.
Each of these issues are examined in the following sections.
Participants in the allocation process should include all parties with an interest in the region being considered. The list of participants will vary from region to region depending primarily upon the enterprises in the region and land tenure arrangements. In the current study, all of the land being considered is either freehold or is owned by the Department of Conservation and Land Management. Shire councils have responsibility for maintaining roads and road verges in the area. Primary stakeholders are therefore the land owners and local management authorities. Additional groups have an interest in the region as a result of ongoing research involvement and can therefore act in an advisory capacity. These groups include Agriculture Western Australia and CSIRO Divisions of Wildlife and Ecology and Water Resources. In other areas, groups that may need to be involved could include aboriginal groups, mining companies, pastoralists, tourism planners and operators, water and power authorities, other government departments such as the Department of Defence and representatives of industry and conservation organisations.
Participation by local land-holders was achieved through liaison with key members of the local Land Conservation District Committee. Some land-holders were understandably reluctant to embark on a facilitated planning process involving computer-based support systems when they could not envisage the likely outcomes of such an approach. It was therefore decided to develop a prototype analysis of the catchment using a preliminary set of guidelines which broadly reflected the issues that may be relevant to the group. It was then possible to demonstrate the procedure to the group and illustrate the type of results that could be expected. The participants were then able to assess the information used and modify it to better reflect their interests, rather than having to be involved in the developmental phase of the project. This approach is, to some extent, contrary to the prevailing view that stakeholders should be involved from the very beginning of a planning exercise. This study indicated the importance of establishing a clear framework which could be taken to the group and modified and developed (or rejected) by them, rather than attempting to seek their involvement in the development of a process which does not have immediately apparent benefits. By developing a prototype for their particular catchment they were immediately able to see the implications of the process for the catchment and for their particular property.
Government agency participation was dependent on the goodwill of particular individuals who provided the best information available within the constraints of other job commitments. Because of the developmental nature of the process, the agencies, like the land-holders, needed to be convinced of its benefits before they committed resources to the exercise. Any subsequent application of a procedure such as this must ensure that all participants are committed to the process from the outset and must also ensure that there are sufficient resources available to acquire the necessary information.
Aboriginal issues were not addressed in this study because of the small area being considered. However, Aboriginal people do have an interest in the broader region and any regional planning must include their participation and have a capacity to reflect their interests.
Each stakeholder group was required to specify:
- the issues that they considered to be important;
- the land uses which they wished to see represented in the landscape; and
- the areas in the landscape which they considered best suited to the specified land uses.
This information provides the basis for developing guidelines for the planning exercise.
The issues that will be relevant for any land-allocation exercise will depend on where that exercise is located. For the case study area, the primary issues identified by the stakeholders were:
- the need for a profitable and economically sustainable agricultural enterprise;
- the need to retain biological diversity;
- the need to control land degradation which threatens both the production and conservation values of the catchment.
In essence, they are seeking an ecologically sustainable agricultural system. In other areas, additional issues such as those associated with Aboriginal interests, mining or pastoralism may also need to be considered.