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Collaborative scenario modeling reveals potential advantages of blending strategies to achieve conservation goals in a working forest landscape



Broad-scale land conservation and management often involve applying multiple strategies in a single landscape. However, the potential outcomes of such arrangements remain difficult to evaluate given the interactions of ecosystem dynamics, resource extraction, and natural disturbances. The costs and potential risks of implementing these strategies make robust evaluation critical.


We used collaborative scenario modeling to compare the potential outcomes of alternative management strategies in the Two Hearted River watershed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to answer key questions: Which management strategies best achieve conservation goals of maintaining landscape spatial heterogeneity and conserving mature forests and wetlands? And how does an increase in wildfire and windthrow disturbances influence these outcomes?


Scenarios were modeled using the VDDT/TELSA state-and-transition modeling suite, and resulting land cover maps were analyzed using ArcGIS, FRAGSTATS, and R statistical software.


Results indicate that blending conservation strategies, such as single-ownership forest reserves and working forest conservation easements in targeted areas of the landscape, may better achieve these goals than applying a single strategy across the same area. However, strategies that best achieve these conservation goals may increase the sensitivity of the landscape to changes in wildfire and windthrow disturbance regimes.


These results inform decision-making about which conservation strategy or combination of strategies to apply in specific locations on the landscape to achieve optimum conservation outcomes, how to best utilize scarce financial resources, and how to reduce the financial and ecological risks associated with the application of innovative strategies in an uncertain future.

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This research was funded with support from The Nature Conservancy’s Rodney Johnson/Katherine Ordway Stewardship Endowment grant, USDA Forest Service State and Private Forestry Redesign, the Doris Duke Conservation Fellowship Program sponsored by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the NSF IGERT Fellowship Program (DGE- 0,549,407), and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Special thanks to Melissa Motew for help with climate data analysis, to all of the experts that contributed to this project, and to Eric Gustafson and four anonymous reviewers for critical feedback that improved this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Janet Silbernagel.

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Price, J.M., Silbernagel, J., Nixon, K. et al. Collaborative scenario modeling reveals potential advantages of blending strategies to achieve conservation goals in a working forest landscape. Landscape Ecol 31, 1093–1115 (2016).

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  • Landscape scenarios
  • Forest landscape modeling
  • State and transition modeling
  • Working forest conservation easement
  • Conservation planning
  • Stakeholder engagement