Identifying Priority Conservation Areas in Georgetown County, South Carolina
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In many places across the United States, the prospect of increasing suburbanization and population growth looms as a significant threat to unique ecosystems and biological communities. Although extensive land protection would greatly benefit the long-term persistence of biodiversity, conservation efforts must typically prioritize areas owing to time and financial constraints. In Georgetown County, South Carolina, the potential for increasing development threatens important habitat for federally endangered species like the red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) and state-listed endangered species like the swallow-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus) as well as species like the American black bear (Ursus americanus), whose population in the upper coastal plain of South Carolina is deemed vulnerable because of the likelihood of habitat loss resulting from land conversion. Much of the development in Georgetown County is concentrated in the Waccamaw Neck region, but there is concern that development will spread into the mostly rural and forested mainland western portion of the county. To encourage effective land use planning and management strategies for Georgetown County, I conducted a GIS-based prioritization of tax parcels using a multicriteria decision analysis framework based on the spatial context, biodiversity, and habitat quality of individual parcels. I developed indicator datasets for these criteria using measures of landscape composition and connectivity, vulnerability to threats from development, species richness, habitat diversity and evenness, and habitat quality. I calculated a conservation value score for each parcel from criteria scores that were derived from the indicator variable utility scores using weighted averaging. I considered three unique prioritization schemes, each placing twice as much value on one of the three criteria. I used the conservation value scores to identify areas of highest priority for conservation and to rank individual parcels by conservation value. The county planning department, conservation organizations, and other interested parties can use this information to guide decisions regarding future development and land use.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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