Brazil and the United States: Transforming Land-Use Planning Through Data
The Better Land-Use Decisions Working Group is testing the efficacy of this next generation framework in the United States and Brazil. That’s because these countries offer immediate opportunities to refine decision models pinpointing those land-use plans yielding the highest ROI for a suite of nature and human well-being variables.
In the United States, the Northern Great Plains is one of the world’s largest intact grassland biomes and is highly threatened by future agricultural development. Pressure from biofuel production along with increased food demand has increased crop prices and led to agricultural expansion in the region.To address this challenge, the Working Group has identified opportunities to implement better decision-making models.
One involves informing the work of the U.S. Natural Conservation Resource Service, which protects more private lands each year with easements than any other agency. The framework will help one of the service’s programs, the Sage Grouse Initiative, answer questions about how to target easements and other investments for the most effective return. The other opportunity is to help target the most strategic allocation of U.S. Farm Bill funds — the largest source of conservation funding in the United States — for biodiversity conservation and protection of ecosystem services.
In Brazil, the national Forest Code is intended to protect 193 million hectares of forest but has historically been poorly enforced. To increase compliance, several major certification initiatives covering soy, sugarcane and beef require that source farms comply with the Forest Code. Recent revisions allow purchase of credits from properties with “excess” forest reserves to properties with inadequate forest reserves.
The Working Group will use the framework to identify how certification of different agricultural sectors and trading rules could maximize biodiversity and ecosystem service benefits, considering that maintaining larger reserves in some areas may have greater benefits than maintaining a fixed percentage of forest on every property.
Brazil also offers additional opportunities for the framework to transform land-use decision-making there. It could inform the work of the Amazon Region Protected Areas program, an ongoing process to expand and strengthen the Brazilian National System of Protected Areas that has a goal of protecting at least 60 million hectares in the Amazon.
It could also help policymakers guide smarter agricultural development in the Brazilian Pantanal, a vast seasonal floodplain of the upper Paraguay River basin, where highly productive and biodiverse native savannas and wetlands have supported both wildlife and traditional cattle grazing for more than 200 years.
Today, the Pantanal’s diverse environmental, ecological and ecosystem service values are highly threatened by changes in land-use practices, mainly conversion of traditionally-grazed native savannas and wetlands on the floodplain to planted non-native grasslands.
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