Drivers of Land Use Change: New Paper from ALI Researchers
Does proximity to a well-developed road network correspond with changes to the way land is used? Does the presence of an irrigation system encourage agricultural producers to keep land in production, or change what they use their land for?
The factors driving land use change in Alberta continue to be one of the focuses of ALI's research, and as part of their work on the three-year project Systems Modeling Sustainable Land and Water Policy in Alberta's Irrigation Sector, Dr. Feng Qiu, Dr. Miles Dyck, and graduate student Xiaofeng Ruan have recently published a paper exploring the issue.
After compiling a geographic information system (GIS) database for Alberta's white zone for the years 2000-2012, the researchers analyzed changes in land use and correlated them with twelve environmental and socioeconomic factors, including precipitation, snow cap, population density, road density, agricultural land values, and the presence of an irrigation system. In "The effects of environmental and socioeconomic factors on land-use changes: a study of Alberta, Canada," they discuss the correlations they found.
For instance, they note that areas with higher road density (a more developed road network) saw a greater rate of conversion from natural land to agricultural land, except in areas suburban areas, where higher road density encouraged conversion from agricultural land to developed land. This finding set Alberta apart from some other parts of the world, where research has found no apparent impact on land use change as a result of higher road density.
The paper also finds that the presence of an irrigation system encourages the retention of Alberta's agricultural land, but that the land is significantly more likely to be planted with crops than used for the grazing of cattle. With the amount of irrigated land in the province potentially expanding in the coming years, this correlation could prove significant in understanding how landscapes throughout the province might evolve.
A variety of other correlations are examined in the article. When delivered next year, the irrigation project's systems model will be informed by this information, as well as numerous other types of data that will allow it to simulate potential environmental, economic, and social impacts of different irrigation and water management policies. Those findings, and the tool that can be used to simulate numerous potential scenarios, will be shared with decision makers, stakeholders, and the public.
The research team for the project Systems Modeling Sustainable Land and Water Policy in Alberta's Irrigation Sector will continue to publish and share findings in the coming months, ahead of their final ALI reports. For more information on their work, visit the project page.