Sarah Wandersee

Dissertation title: "Land Cover and Land Use Change in Human Environmental Systems: Understanding Complex Interactions among Policy and Management, Livelihoods, and Conservation"


Conservation challenges abound throughout the world and yet conservation priorities are typically sidelined in favor of economic incentives. This dissertation addresses the overall question of how conservation policy relates to connections between land and livelihoods. To address this question, I examine household land use and protected area (PA) policy goals, as mediated and informed by local management dynamics, household livelihood strategies and ecological knowledge. A satisfactory pursuit of this question requires an examination of how people weigh conservation and livelihood choices in settings of limited livelihood options. I examine land change, livelihoods, and environmental perception in the context of reforestation policy implementation in Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve FNNR, China. I use a mixed methods approach to address the following three objectives at the landscape (objective 1) and household (objectives 2 and 3) scales: 1) Evaluate where and how forest change may have occurred in and around golden monkey habitat between 1996 and 2009. 2) Ascertain how (if at all) household-level socio-economic factors and crop damage explain variation in household-level reforestation. 3) Determine the extent (if at all) to which Sloped Land Conversion Program (SLCP) participation or other factors (land use, livelihood, demographics, conservation policy) relate to local perception of human impact on the environment. Methods integrate remote sensing, geographic information systems, landscape metrics, a semi-structured household survey, interviews with key village and reserve personnel, and logistic and ordered multinomial modeling.

Results indicate the reserve contains more connected forest cover than surrounding areas but also highlight areas of potential concern for conservation sustainability. Overall, the reserve appears to benefit from the support of local residents. However, results also raise questions about the efficacy of a major reforestation program, the Sloped Land Conversion Program (SLCP) and reveal areas of concern for reserve management. Specifically, evidence does not indicate success in achieving the dual SLCP program goals of reforestation and poverty alleviation. In addition, ethnic minorities appear to be increasingly enrolling land in the program with varying outcomes for coupled livelihood and monkey habitat sustainability. Some ethnic minorities, particularly the Tujia, are associated with higher household reforestation levels than the Han majority and Miao minority, and reforestation participation may be related to ethnic minority-majority and minority-minority inequality. The relative household-level allocation of reforestation species mainly pine, fir, bamboo, and tea, also appears related to ethnicity. This has an implication for livelihoods since tea can be a lucrative crop while wild pig damage is more concentrated among bamboo reforestation types, affecting the potential positive impacts of reduced wild pig damage associated with reduced cropland. Finally, environmental awareness of local residents may be limited without direct experience with the golden monkey, or even negative when crops are damaged by wild pigs. In order to protect the golden monkey and forest resources for the future, policy recommendations include integrating the many disparate conservation policies FNNR implements, forging stronger communication between the reserve and local communities regarding the benefits of conservation, mitigating human-wildlife conflict, and championing more community education on human impacts on the local environment.