Research Article

Landscape Ecology

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 195-210

First online:

Predicting land use change: comparison of models based on landowner surveys and historical land cover trends

  • Amy PocewiczAffiliated withDepartment of Forest Resources, University of IdahoThe Nature Conservancy, Wyoming Field Office Email author 
  • , Max Nielsen-PincusAffiliated withDepartment of Forest Resources, University of Idaho
  • , Caren S. GoldbergAffiliated withDepartment of Fish and Wildlife Resources, University of Idaho
  • , Melanie H. JohnsonAffiliated withDepartment of Environmental Science, University of Idaho
  • , Penelope MorganAffiliated withDepartment of Forest Resources, University of Idaho
  • , Jo Ellen ForceAffiliated withDepartment of Forest Resources, University of Idaho
  • , Lisette P. WaitsAffiliated withDepartment of Fish and Wildlife Resources, University of Idaho
  • , Lee VierlingAffiliated withDepartment of Rangeland Ecology and Management, University of Idaho

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To make informed planning decisions, community leaders, elected officials, scientists, and natural resource managers must be able to evaluate potential effects of policies on land use change. Many land use change models use remotely-sensed images to make predictions based on historical trends. One alternative is a survey-based approach in which landowners’ stated intentions are modeled. The objectives of our research were to: (1) develop a survey-based landowner decision model (SBM) to simulate future land use changes, (2) compare projections from the SBM with those from a trend-based model (TBM), and (3) demonstrate how two alternative policy scenarios can be incorporated into the SBM and compared. We modeled relationships between land management decisions, collected from a mail survey of private landowners, and the landscape, using remotely-sensed imagery and ownership parcel data. We found that SBM projections were within the range of TBM projections and that the SBM was less affected by errors in image classification. Our analysis of alternative policies demonstrates the importance of understanding potential effects of targeted land use policies. While policies oriented toward increasing enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) resulted in a large (11–13%) increase in CRP lands, policies targeting increased forest thinning on private non-industrial lands increased low-density forest projections by only 1%. The SBM approach is particularly appropriate for landscapes including many landowners, because it reflects the decision-making of the landowners whose individual actions will result in collective landscape change.


Agriculture Alternative futures Conservation Reserve Program Forestry Markov-chain modeling Northern Idaho Residential development Survey-based modeling