ANALYZING FOREST CHANGE AND POLICY IN WASHINGTON, DC SUBURBAN COUNTIES
Jantz, Claire Ann
Geores, Martha E
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Geographical approaches for landscape studies have emphasized the interpretation of landscape change as a cultural phenomenon, but often have neglected modern geographic techniques, such as remote sensing observations and quantitative spatial analysis, to characterize and understand landscape change. This study attempts to bridge these gaps by integrating a socio-cultural analysis of land use policy formation and quantitative assessments of land cover change to demonstrate how policy decisions can influence forest landscape patterns in suburban areas. Historical data from Montgomery County, MD and Fairfax County, VA, two counties adjacent to the Washington, DC urban core that have different governmental structures, were assembled and analyzed. A policy database was developed and analyzed using qualitative techniques, such as grounded theory and content analysis, to address questions related to policy formation and trends. Key findings included the identification of a strong link between land use policies and the broader environmental discourse, demonstrating that dominant cultural values are institutionalized in the development of land use policy. Furthermore, many policies related to forest management and preservation, particularly in recent decades, had a strong focus on protecting riparian forests. Land cover change between the late 1930s and 1998 was studied for local case study areas using time series of aerial photographs, and between 1990 and 2000 across both counties using satellite-derived land cover maps. Using a statistical technique, weights of evidence, the processes of new development, deforestation, and forest persistence were modeled. The results highlighted the role of biophysical variables, such as steep slopes and the presence of poorly drained soils, in constraining new development and enhancing forest persistence. However, the role of land use policies was also evident in enhancing forest persistence through the establishment of protected areas and riparian protection policies. This study demonstrated the impact that land use regulations can have on the evolution of forested landscape patterns within the built environment. The links between socio-cultural values and policy formation highlighted the institutional and cultural barriers that prevent rapid shifts in policy orientation, despite social and environmental problems that arise within a rapidly changing landscape.