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Informing the Identification of Economically Effective Targets for Grassland Conservation in the Dakotas

Understanding Dynamics of Land Use Switching with Satellite and Field Level Data in Context of Climate Variability


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The conversion of grassland to cropland in the Dakotas could imperil wildlife such as nesting waterfowl and contribute to the degradation of water quality in the Mississippi River watershed. However, high crop prices in recent years have contributed to a high rate of grassland to cropland conversion on private lands. In addition to these economic factors, changes in climate could exacerbate the challenge of protecting grasslands, as conditions may become more amenable to row crop production. The goal of this project was to work with grassland conservation managers to better target the use of funds allocated toward incentivizing grassland preservation in the Dakotas. Researchers identified the vulnerability of crop production to climate [...]

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“Ordway Prairie, South Dakota - Credit: Tom Koerner, USFWS”
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What remains of the United States prairie ecosystem is threatened by economic forces and a changing climate. Grassland conversion to cropland in the Dakotas would imperil nesting waterfowl among other species and further impair water quality in the Mississippi watershed. We seek to work with grassland conservation managers to better target the use of public and private funds allocated toward incentivizing grassland preservation on private lands in the Dakotas. We will assemble data on historical land switching in the area and on land conversion costs. We will analyze crop vulnerabilities to weather and climate change. We will provide practical analytical tools to assess the likelihood of grassland conversion to cropping and of the costs of protecting these lands under different climate and economic scenarios. These tools, together with insights we obtain from partners in the area will allow us to work with land conservation managers on identifying lands to target for grassland protection incentives under alternative climate and economic scenarios. Outputs will be used to collaborate with land conservation managers when comparing strategies for ensuring that lands providing high wildlife and habitat benefits at low conservation cost are conserved while private landowners are happy to forgo land use alternatives.

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typeTechnical Summary
valueGrassland acres protected from conversion in the Prairie Pothole Region are far short of stated goals. Recent high commodity prices and technological innovations have increased profits on non-grass crop agriculture. Consequently the cost of protection through land acquisition and grassland easements has increased, stressing limited conservation budget and resources. Climate projections for the East River Dakotas suggest a future more amenable to row crop production in the area. Land conservation managers must seek to balance habitat and wildlife benefits with conversion risks and protection costs. The goal of this research is to integrate climate information into strategic planning tools through two-way interaction with conservation managers and to contribute new understanding on factors affecting land use switches. Our specific objectives are four-fold: to understand the management environment and then co-identify conservation targets with partners; to assess the sensitivity of these targets to climate change, market environment and technical change; to co-identify management options; and to promote dialogue on practical implementing. We will do so through interactions with land conservation managers, through data assembly on historical land use switching, as well as meetings with private landowners. We will develop statistical models of land use switching, crop production vulnerability to climate change, and how stochastic returns to grass and crop production interact with conversion and switching costs. Expected outputs will include maps of land use switches, a land conversion budget framework, a land conversion choice calculator, as well as sensitivity analysis on alternative prices, production technologies and climate scenarios. Our cross-disciplinary team, consisting of a production economist, a natural resource economist, a climate scientist, and a landscape ecologist has extensive experience in related issues. Collaborators will help explain context, goals and management options as well as facilitate data acquisition, interactions with landowners, and translation of findings toward implementation.

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Type Scheme Key
RegistrationUUID NCCWSC 855e5ab8-0cb0-42a7-9973-91eb670603b8
StampID NCCWSC NC14-HD0090

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