Peer Reviewed Publications

Year Title (Author, Description) File Download

Supplementary Methods for The Future of Wildlife Conservation and Resource Development in the Western Boreal Forest: A technical report on cumulative effects modeling of future land use scenarios

Matt Carlson and David Browne

Supplementary methods for the scenario analysis presented in the report "The Future of Wildlife Conservation and Resource Development in the Western Boreal Forest: A technical report on cumulative effects modeling of future land use scenarios"


Scenario Analysis to Identify Viable Conservation Strategies in Paraguay's Imperiled Atlantic Forest

Matt Carlson, Ross Mitchell, and Laura Rodriguez

A common challenge facing land use planning is assessment of the future performance of land use options. The challenge can be acute in developing regions where land use is expanding rapidly and funding and data needed for planning are scarce. To inform land use planning for a biosphere reserve located in Paraguay's Atlantic forest region, a scenario analysis explored the relative merits of conventional and conservation agricultural practices, sustained yield forestry, and protection. Simulations compared the long-term impacts on land cover, biotic carbon, and income of the area's residents. Ecological and economic decline were projected under conventional practices. Protection and forestry scenarios achieved only small relative improvements to ecological indicators at the cost of reduced economic performance. By addressing the underlying issue of land degradation, conservation agriculture including no-tillage was the most successful land use strategy both ecologically and economically. Identification of conservation agriculture as the most promising land use strategy prioritizes issues that must be addressed to achieve sustainability, most importantly the provision of education and funding to smallholder farmers. We conclude that scenario analysis offers a flexible strategy to integrate available data for the purpose of informing land use planning in data-limited regions such as Paraguay's Atlantic forest. Link to article:


Modelling regional futures at decadal scale: application to the Kimberley region

Fabio Boschetti, Hector Lozano-Montes, J. Brad Stelfox

We address the question of how to provide meaningful scientific information to support environmental decision making at the regional scale and at the temporal scale of several decades. Our application is the management of a network of marine parks in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, where the key challenges to environmental sustainability are slow-dynamics climate change processes and one-off investments in large infrastructure, which can affect the future of a region for decades to come. In this situation, strategic, rather than reactive planning is necessary and thus standard adaptive management approaches may not be effective. Prediction becomes more urgent than adaptation, in terms of assessing the long term consequence of specific economic and conservation decisions. Working at the interface between future studies, socio-economic modelling and environmental modelling, we define 18 scenarios of economic development and climate change impacts and 5 management strategies aimed at ensuring the sustainability of the marine environment. We explore these potential future trajectories using coupled models of terrestrial land use and marine ecosystem dynamics. The Alces model simulates the dynamics of bio-physical and socio-economic processes on land and the pressures these impose on the coastal and marine environment. This forces an Ecopath with Ecosim (EwE) model used to simulate marine processes, foodweb dynamics and human activities in the marine environment. We obtain a projection of the Kimberley marine system to the year 2050, conditional on the chosen scenarios and management strategies, which is compatible with the best available knowledge of the current system state (as codified in the models’ input) and system functioning (as represented in the models’ dynamics). Our results suggest that climate change, not economic development, is the largest factor affecting the future of marine ecosystems in the Kimberley region, with sedentary species such as reef fish at greatest risk. These same species also benefit most from more stringent management strategies, especially expansion of sanctuary zones and Marine Protected Areas.

Modelling regional futures at decadal scale.pdf

Managing the Cumulative Impacts of Land-uses in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin: A Modeling Approach

R. Schneider, B. Stelfox., S. Boutin, S. Wasel; Journal of Conservation Biology

In this paper we present a case study from northeastern Alberta, Canada. Our objective is to demonstrate a fundamentally different approach to forest management in which stakeholders weigh current management options in terms of their long-term effects on the forest in order to balance conservation and economic objectives. We use ALCES, a landscape-scale simulation model, to quantify the effects of the current regulatory framework and typical industrial practices on a suite of ecological and economic indicators over the next 100 years. We also use the model to explore an alternative management scenario involving the application of several "best practices" that are currently being advocated.


Managing Alberta's Energy Futures at the Landscape Scale

Kennett et al., ISEEE, University of Calgary

Alberta's booming energy industry is competing for space on a land base that is subject to increasing human demands from a multitude of industrial, agricultural, residential and recreational land uses. The ability of that land base to support these land uses and to sustain the province's diverse natural ecosystems is therefore a critically important issue when considering energy futures for Alberta. This paper is intended to show how the implications of energy development at the landscape scale can be understood. It also discusses key issues and options for the management of this landscape change. The data and analysis presented here illustrate the potential for integrated and interdisciplinary research to focus and inform the debate that has already begun in Alberta as decision-makers, stakeholders and individual Albertans confront inevitable and difficult choices regarding energy and landscape futures.


Integrated Resource Management and Planning entry in the Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (

Matt Carlson and Brad Stelfox

Land use conflicts are increasing in intensity and frequency as a result of expanding development, a finite land base, and a growing environmental ethic. Reactionary strategies, fragmented bureaucracies, and the legacy of utilitarian management approaches have created disjointed environmental management that is poorly suited to resolve land use conflicts. Integrated approaches to resource and environmental management have emerged as an alternative. Integrate resource management (IRM) applies a number of concepts to balance development and conservation objectives: stakeholder collaboration, explicit goals and indicators, tradeoff analysis, adaptive management, monitoring, development thresholds, and zoning.


Informing Regional Planning in Alberta's Oilsands Region with a Land-use Simulation Model

Matt Carlson et al; International Environmental Modelling and Software Society

Planning for regional sustainability requires strategic understanding of ecological and socioeconomic trade-offs associated with alternative land use options. We discuss a scenario analysis being undertaken to assess trade-offs for a 93,000 km2 region in northeastern Alberta containing the world's second largest oil deposit. Due to its immense economic and ecological value, the region presents both an opportunity and challenge for the objectives of sustainable prosperity and healthy ecosystems put forth by the Alberta government's Land-Use Framework. ALCES simulation and mapping software are being applied to inform government planners and stakeholders about possible future outcomes associated with land-use options. ALCES is well suited due to its capacity to simulate the cumulative effects of the major types of land use (hydrocarbon extraction, forestry, agriculture, residential) and natural processes (fire and meteorology) on a wide range of ecological and economic indicators. The scenario analysis provides a case study to discuss the technical aspects of ALCES and the Alberta Land-Use Framework's approach of facilitating learning through iterative scenario analysis.


Influences of Human Stressors on Fish-Based Metrics for Assessing River Condition in Central Alberta

C Steves, T. Council, M. Sullivan

Economic developments in Alberta have resulted in widespread changes in land use that may deteriorate river conditions for fish. Fish assemblages were characterized with index of biological integrity metrics for the heavily-developed watershed of the Battle River, Alberta. Metric relationships with human stressors were quantified using regression and information theory methods. Although the fauna comprised 14 native species, 50% of the catch was white sucker (Catostomus commersoni Lacepede, 1803). Five statistically unrelated metrics were identified as being responsive to stressors: two trophic guilds, one habitat guild, one reproductive guild, and one measure of community structure. Regression showed that the cumulative effect of human developments, indexed as road density in the basin, was negatively linked to the relative abundance of lithophils and positively linked to the relative abundance of omnivores. Agriculture also threatened the integrity of fish assemblages. Stream sections with higher cattle densities in their basins had fewer lithophils and benthic invertivores; whereas stream sections with higher nutrient concentrations contained fewer species, as well as fewer top carnivores, but more true omnivores. Understanding effects of human footprints that are expanding in western Canada will be critical to the successful


Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts: Towards Integrated Natural Resource Management in Canada

Cassie J. Doyle, Fikret Berkes, Stan Boutin, Matthew Carlson, Thomas Dietz, George Greene, et al.

Natural Resources Canada asked the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) to undertake an assessment on the state of knowledge and practice of integrated approaches to natural resource management in Canada. To address the question, the CCA convened a multidisciplinary panel of 13 experts from Canada and abroad. Panel members brought expertise related to biology, ecology, economics, human geography, geoscience, law, natural resource management and development, public administration, sociology, and traditional knowledge. The Panel highlighted the importance of considering multiple ways of knowing in INRM, including Indigenous and local knowledge. Although several forms of governance can apply to INRM, all models benefit from the involvement of all actors to participate in natural resource management decision-making. The Panel found that integration is needed to address current realities, and overcome the limitations of conventional approaches which focus on managing individual activities and resources. INRM calls for higher-order decision-making that embraces land-use planning and strategic assessment at regional scales, enabling better and more efficient decision-making at project-specific stages. The report details eight defining characteristics of INRM that can serve as a guide to implementation. It does not call for a complete overhaul of current resource management practices, but notes that there is sufficient knowledge and established tools to start supporting these integrated processes now.


Exploring Cumulative Effects of Regional Urban Growth Strategies: A Planning Scenario Case Study from the Calgary Region of Western Canada

Carlson, M., J. Quinn, and B. Stelfox.

Exploring Cumulative Effects of Regional Urban Growth Strategies: A Planning Scenario Case Study from the Calgary Region of Western Canada. International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP) Review 11. The article describes the use of the ALCES land-use simulation model to estimate the impacts likely to result from the next 50 years of population growth in the Calgary metropolitan area. The analysis compares the consequences of continued reliance on low density suburban development with a proposed regional plan that incorporates densification. The article was published in the 50th anniversary edition of the ISOCARP (International Society of City and Regional Planners) Review titled “Reinventing Planning: Examples for the Profession”.

ISOCARP article.pdf

Effects of a Severe Mountain Pine Beetle Epidemic in Western Alberta, Canada under Two Forest Management Scenarios

R. Schneider, M.C. Latham, B. Stelfox, D. Farr, S. Boutin; International J. of Forestry Research

We used a simulation model to investigate possible effects of a severe mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins) epidemic under two management scenarios in Alberta, Canada. Our simulated outbreak was based on the current epidemic in British Columbia, which may kill close to 80% of the province's pine volume. Our two management scenarios were conventional harvest and a pine-reduction strategy modeled on a component of Alberta's Mountain Pine Beetle Management Strategy. Our objective was to describe the potential outcomes of these alternative management approaches over the medium and longer term. Alternative management approaches and avenues for future research are discussed.


Does Expected Future Landscape Condition Support Proposed Population Objectives for Boreal Birds?

L. Mahon, E. Bayne, P. Solymos, S. Matsuoka, M. Carlson, E. Dzus, F. Schmiegelow, S. Song

L. Mahon et al. 2014. Does expected future landscape condition support proposed population objectives for boreal birds? Forest Ecology and Management 312:28-39. Abstract: Assessing the feasibility of proposed Bird Conservation Region (BCR) population objectives requires comparing expected future population size estimates to proposed population objectives. Linking statistical bird habitat models with landscape simulation models can provide a direct method for assessing the ecological and economic implications of alternative land and resource scenarios within a BCR or BCR subregion. We demonstrate our approach for analyses of future habitat supply and population size for a suite of priority landbird species using the ALCES landscape simulation model and empirical bird habitat models within a multi-use landscape located in northeast Alberta, Canada and BCR 6-Boreal Taiga Plains. We used ALCES to simulate future landscape condition over a 100 year time period under three scenarios: business as usual, protected areas, and climate change. Shortfalls between simulated population size estimates at year 30 and proposed population objectives existed for each of the four priority bird species examined suggesting that expected future landscape condition will not support proposed population objectives for these species. Boreal species strongly associated with mature and old forest habitats exhibited population declines over the 100 year simulation period. One habitat generalist, a species associated with both early and late seral stages, appeared to benefit from the range of land use scenarios examined. Our approach improves upon current static approaches used to step down BCR scale population objectives to sub-regional scale habitat objectives by utilizing statistical bird population response models to estimate density and a dynamic landscape simulation model to estimate expected future habitat condition.


Cumulative Effects Assessment, Linking Social, Economic and Governance Dimensions

Weber, M., Krogman, N., and Antoniuk, T.

Setting social, economic, and ecological objectives is ultimately a process of social choice informed by science.


Assessing the Future Wildlife Impacts of Conservation and Development in the Mackenzie Watershed

Matt Carlson, Erin Bayne, and Brad Stelfox

Located in northwestern Canada, the Mackenzie watershed's intact boreal ecosystems support a diversity of wildlife including hundreds of migratory bird species and sensitive mammals such as the Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou). The watershed also contains abundant timber and hydrocarbon resources such as the oil sands region in northern Alberta and undeveloped gas fields in the Northwest Territories. We conducted a scenario analysis to explore the long-term impacts of natural resource development to the watershed's landscapes and wildlife. Land use simulations using A Landscape Cumulative Effects Simulator (ALCES) computer model compared a business-as-usual development scenario and a conservation scenario that increased protection and implemented practices to reduce the impact of forestry and energy development. The business-as-usual scenario was predicted to reduce older forest and increase anthropogenic footprint. These simulated landscape transformations caused declines in songbird species such as the Canada Warbler (Wilsonia canadensis), Black-throated Green Warbler (Dendroica virens) and Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus), and led to the extirpation of Woodland Caribou. By reducing landscape disturbance, the conservation scenario lessened the predicted impacts to wildlife. The scenario analysis demonstrates the importance of implementing effective conservation strategies prior to wide-scale development in boreal ecosystems.


Application of Land-Use Simulation to Protected Area Selection for Efficient Avoidance of Biodiversity Loss in Canada's Western Boreal Region

Matt Carlson, David Browne, and Carolyn Callaghan

M. Carlson, D. Browne, and C. Callaghan. 2019. Application of land-use simulation to protected area selection for efficient avoidance of biodiversity loss in Canada's western boreal region. Land Use Policy 82:821-831. Abstract: Avoided ecological loss is an appropriate measure of conservation effectiveness, but challenging to measure because it requires consideration of counterfactual conditions. Land-use simulation is a well suited but underutilized tool in this regard. As a case study for the application of land-use simulation to assess the impact of protected areas, we present a scenario analysis exploring conservation options in Canada’s western boreal forest. The cumulative effect of multiple natural resource sectors, including oil and gas, forestry, and agriculture, have substantially altered the region’s ecosystems in recent decades and elevated risk to wildlife. The evolving state of the region is such that managing risks to biodiversity requires consideration of not only today’s but also tomorrow’s conditions. We simulated the long-term (50-year) outcomes of land use and protection to caribou, fisher, fish, and resource production in each of 104 watersheds in the 693,345 km2 study area. Simulated land use caused increased risk to wildlife in response to northwards expansion of resource extraction and expansion of agricultural lands. For each watershed, indicator performance with and without protection were compared to calculate the benefit (avoided ecological loss) and cost (lost opportunity for resource production) of protection. The capacity for protected areas to avoid disturbance varied substantially across watersheds, as did the potential loss of economic opportunity. Focusing protection on cost-effective watersheds made protected area expansion a more efficient strategy for reducing wildlife risk than reducing the overall rate of natural resource production. Heterogeneity in the cost-effectiveness of protection presents an opportunity to balance ecological integrity and economic growth.


ALCES Online: Web-delivered scenario analysis to inform sustainable land-use decisions

Carlson, M., B. Stelfox, N. Purves-Smith, J. Straker, S. Berryman, T. Barker, B. Wilson

ALCES Online: Web-delivered scenario analysis to inform sustainable land-use decisions. In: D.P. Ames, N.W.T. Quinn and A.E. Rizzoli (Eds.). Proceedings of the 7th International Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software. June 2014, San Diego, California. Simulation models are yet to reach their potential to inform environmental sustainability, in part due to inaccessibility. ALCES Online ( addresses this deficiency through web-delivery of high quality scenario analysis to individuals lacking a modeling background. The underlying scenario analysis is holistic through incorporation of a diverse set of drivers and indicators. Simulated land uses include energy, agriculture, mining, forestry, and human settlements; natural drivers such as fire are also included. Environmental and socioeconomic consequences are conveyed by tracking indicators related to landscape composition, wildlife, ecosystem services, and the economy. Dynamics are simulated spatially, and indicator performance presented using maps and regional summaries. Simulations span three time periods: pre-industrial, past century, and next 50 years. The pre-industrial phase informs baselines from which to assess land-use impacts. Simulation of the past century reconstructs changes caused by historical land use, thereby demonstrating capacity for land use to alter ecosystems over meaningful time. A range of future (50 year) simulations allow the user to assess potential consequences of decisions related to development rate, management practices, and ecosystem protection. To facilitate application across diverse initiatives, ALCES Online is customizable through user-defined study areas, indicators, and land-use strategies.

Carlson et al 2014.pdf

Alberta oil sands development and risk management of Canadian boreal ecosystems

Carlson, M. and B. Stelfox

Alberta oil sands development and risk management of Canadian boreal ecosystems. In: J.E. Gates, D.L. Trauger and B. Czech (Eds.) Peak Oil, Economic Growth, and Wildlife Conservation. Springer, New York, New York. The majority of Alberta’s oil sands are yet to be developed due to the high cost of production, but declining conventional reserves will create high pressure to develop the resource. Simulation of the potential future effects (50 years) of accelerated oil sands development demonstrates that associated increases in landscape disturbance, human access, and industrial activity would increase GHG emissions and elevate risk to fish and wildlife. The analysis identified that impacts can be reduced but not avoided by improving management practices and limiting non-industrial access. Expansion of the protected areas network is an additional mechanism to reduce environmental risk, and the aggregated distribution of bitumen deposits provides opportunities for cost-effective protection. A land-use plan has been developed for the region with the objective of optimizing the economic potential of the oil sands while also maintaining ecosystem function, biodiversity, and human health. If the land-use plan is implemented in its entirety, including the establishment of thresholds to limit land use within bounds of ecological integrity, it may provide a model for sustainable development of hydrocarbon reserves.

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