Zoning boundaries can make good neighbors in conservation

October 28, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. - As the world's biodiversity hotspots are increasingly stressed by their human neighbors, zoning is becoming a common strategy to balance environmental protection and human needs. But a recent study shows zoning for conservation demands reality checks.

"Zoning ordinances are rarely evaluated for their ability to make positive changes using empirical data on both human and biodiversity characteristics." says Jianguo (Jack) Liu, an internationally recognized expert at Michigan State University in a study of coupled human and natural systems. "It's critical to examine both human and natural systems to see if ordinances are working and understand what changes might be needed."

A unique case study that does of one of the world's renowned nature reserves in southwestern China shows that zoning is helping protect endangered giant pandas. The analysis from Michigan State University's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS) also reveals critical weaknesses.

According to the paper, zoning ordinances can be useful to balance human activities and wildlife habitat as long as a few limitations are remembered: Lines on a map don't show up in a forest, laws mean little without enforcement and animals can't read zoning ordinances.

"Zoning everywhere, in China and in the United States, is about drawing lines on a piece of paper. But the big challenge is always how do you bring those lines to life?" said Vanessa Hull, the lead author of a paper published in the Oct. 28 online edition of Biological Conservation. "The people who live in that landscape can't see it and there are no fences. We're showing that zoning is an effective tool for controlling some human impacts but not others."

Hull is a fisheries and wildlife doctoral candidate in CSIS who has spent years periodically living in the Wolong Nature Reserve to understand the delicate balance between pandas and the people who live amongst them.

Wolong, like many nature reserves across the globe, is home to both animals and people. Increasingly, governments are turning to zoning ordinances to protect habitat while still allowing people access to a livelihood. People in Wolong historically have farmed, chopped down trees for fuel and construction, kept livestock and accommodated the tourists who stream in to see the beloved pandas in breeding centers.

Pandas are picky about their habitat - needing gentle slops, moderate elevation and plenty of bamboo to munch. While other species that contribute to Wolong's rich biodiversity benefit from conservation efforts, the charismatic pandas drive much of the policy there.

Wolong has been zoned into three areas: The "core" area strictly limits human activity to limit human impact on pandas. The "experimental" area thrives with homes, businesses and roads. In between is a "buffer zone" of limited human access intended to acknowledge that it's hard to declare a forest pristine if a hotel is right next door.

To understand how the zoning is working out, Hull and Liu, her mentor, CSIS director and Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability, joined with colleagues to compile a broad range of data. Liu's previous work on panda habitat classification, a national giant panda census, geographic data on locations of roads and human establishments, and new data on movements of individual pandas and livestock are combined to create an unusually robust look at the effectiveness of zoning.

Two female pandas - Mei-Mei and Pan-Pan - fitted by Hull and collaborators with GPS collars, provided new insight on how pandas move about.

The result is a way to breathe life into policy and provide a novel look that goes beyond theory. Hull said that zoning in Wolong is protecting some, but not all prime panda real estate. The study also is helping show where improvements are needed. Including: "There are people who have no idea what the zoning rules are," Hull said. "Zoning is meaningful and helpful when a large hotel complex is being proposed, but less real to a farmer living in a rural area who has no idea he's likely wandering in and out of a core zone."

She noted that enormous conservation efforts in China that pay people in nature reserves not to farm and to monitor to prevent timber removal have been crucial.

"We're showing that you should have zoning in your toolbox to conserve habitat, but it shouldn't be the only tool you have," she said. "It needs to be paired with other policies when it comes to human behavior. We know that it is crucial to work directly with people and provide benefits to people to preserve habitat."
-end-
The paper, Evaluating the Efficacy of Zoning Designations for Protected Area Management, was authored by Hull, Liu, academic specialist Andrés Viña, and doctoral candidates Wei Liu and Mao-Ning Tuanmu from CSIS; CSIS alumni Marc Linderman, now assistant professor of geography at the University of Iowa, and Xiaodong Chen, an assistant professor of geography at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Zhiyun Ouyang, Weihua Xu and Jindong Zhang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Shiqiang Zhou, Jinyan Huang and Yan Huang from the China Center for Research and Conservation of the Giant Panda; and Hemin Zhang, the director of the Wolong Nature Reserve.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Michigan State University Distinguished Fellowship Program, the William and Evelyn Taylor International Engagement Program, the National Natural Science Foundation of China (40901289), and the State Key Laboratory of Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Liu's work also is supported by MSU AgBioResearch.

Michigan State University

Related Data Articles from Brightsurf:

Keep the data coming
A continuous data supply ensures data-intensive simulations can run at maximum speed.

Astronomers are bulging with data
For the first time, over 250 million stars in our galaxy's bulge have been surveyed in near-ultraviolet, optical, and near-infrared light, opening the door for astronomers to reexamine key questions about the Milky Way's formation and history.

Novel method for measuring spatial dependencies turns less data into more data
Researcher makes 'little data' act big through, the application of mathematical techniques normally used for time-series, to spatial processes.

Ups and downs in COVID-19 data may be caused by data reporting practices
As data accumulates on COVID-19 cases and deaths, researchers have observed patterns of peaks and valleys that repeat on a near-weekly basis.

Data centers use less energy than you think
Using the most detailed model to date of global data center energy use, researchers found that massive efficiency gains by data centers have kept energy use roughly flat over the past decade.

Storing data in music
Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a technique for embedding data in music and transmitting it to a smartphone.

Life data economics: calling for new models to assess the value of human data
After the collapse of the blockchain bubble a number of research organisations are developing platforms to enable individual ownership of life data and establish the data valuation and pricing models.

Geoscience data group urges all scientific disciplines to make data open and accessible
Institutions, science funders, data repositories, publishers, researchers and scientific societies from all scientific disciplines must work together to ensure all scientific data are easy to find, access and use, according to a new commentary in Nature by members of the Enabling FAIR Data Steering Committee.

Democratizing data science
MIT researchers are hoping to advance the democratization of data science with a new tool for nonstatisticians that automatically generates models for analyzing raw data.

Getting the most out of atmospheric data analysis
An international team including researchers from Kanazawa University used a new approach to analyze an atmospheric data set spanning 18 years for the investigation of new-particle formation.

Read More: Data News and Data Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.