Ecological, economic, and social dynamics associated with exurban development in southern Appalachia
Barlow, Paige Fithian
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Exurban development, the construction of low-density residential homes in a rural landscape, is the fastest growing type of land use in the United States and is prominent in the southern Appalachian region. Associated parcelization and forest fragmentation is of concern for ecological, economic, and social reasons. To investigate exurban development in Macon County, North Carolina, we modeled the relationship between avian occupancy and multi-scale attributes at National Forest, land trust, and unprotected sites via a Bayesian approach that accounts for false positive and false negative detections. Before modeling avian occupancy and exurban development, we evaluated our model parameterization through simulations. We then followed a structured decision making (SDM) process with owners of large, forested property (30 ha property with 22 ha of forest) to investigate alternative forest management options. Although SDM has typically been applied to decision problems involving public resources, we illustrate the ability of SDM to incorporate value-based and technical information, balance multiple objectives, and address uncertainty in the case of private resource management. Our occupancy model parameterization generated accurate and precise posterior distributions. Landscape- and local-scale covariates influenced avian occupancy more than site-scale covariates, and landscape composition and elevation had a greater effect on posterior occupancy probabilities than configuration. The Black-throated Blue Warbler and Wood Thrush had the lowest posterior occupancy probabilities of the six focal species. National Forest sites had high occupancy, but land trust sites exhibited patterns similar to unprotected sites. The most promising forest management action was crown thinning timber harvest under the Present-Use Value program. The least promising forest management actions were selling 1 ha and personal use of the forest, with or without a conservation easement. Landowners reported that they enjoyed participating in the SDM project, and after reviewing the results of the decision network, 69% said they would reconsider what they are currently doing to manage their forest. Our findings can provide guidance to U.S. Forest Service decision-makers, county planners, land trusts, and landowners as they decide how to respond to exurban development, and our occupancy model and SDM can be useful methods for future studies.