GIS mapping of "two worlds": Comparing expert and non-expert conservation priorities
Hurley, Patrick T.
Levine, Norman S.
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Increasing urbanization has been met with a call for setting aside lands for permanent protection. In order to maximize available conservation funds, previous research has argued that priority-setting exercises are critical to achieving this goal. In order to advance priority-setting exercises, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are often used to facilitate conservation assessments. This process enables the identification of the highest priority areas for conservation based on certain ecological and biodiversity criteria. To date, conservation assessments largely have been expert-driven and based on ecological and biological data, while emerging research stresses the need to involve non-experts throughout the process of conservation planning. To some, the use of non-experts in the process creates a hybrid view of resource management and has the likelihood; it is argued, to increase the potential for success of conservation projects. From this perspective, greater conservation success results from identifying areas of correspondence between experts and non-experts. To date, however, there has been little examination of the correspondence between expert and non-expert conservation assessments and what this might mean for conservation planning. Using a case study of Charleston County, South Carolina, this thesis examines the issue of correspondence and non-correspondence between expert and non-expert conservation assessments, focusing on how they may contribute to potential success and conflict. Specifically, this research addresses how the incorporation of a particular group of people can affect conservation planning. The results suggest that non-experts in Charleston County identify areas, whose attributes correspond closely to the conservation priorities identified by experts. While this research does not explicitly evaluate conservation success, these findings support the idea that involvement of non-experts in conservation assessments might lay the groundwork for more successful conservation plans, given that potential areas of conflict can arise in the process. For example, past research indicates a focus on corresponding areas can lead to more successful planning; however, doing so may disregard a certain constituency, which itself can lead to conflict. Therefore, plans that proceed from a position that a focus on corresponding areas and a system of conservation comprises may relieve potential conflicts in conservation planning.