Landscapes, Scale, and Government Policy
The process of landscape change have finally caught the attention of the public and governments of the United States. Now that we are equipped with the knowledge that we must at least control our effects on landscapes, we should ensure that our policies are a reflection of informed and accurate decisions. This has been proven to be very difficult, as there are many factors that must be considered when addressing landscape change including issues of spatial and temporal scales of landscape processes. This type of scale is best described as the spatial or temporal dimension of a certain process (Turner, 2000). Scales may vary, ranging from the broad temporal and spatial scale of plate tectonics to the fine scale processes of insect herbivory. Landscape change has different effects along different levels of scale, and thus, should be treated similarly as well. These varying scales must be considered when drafting the many policies that contend with the changing landscapes in order to carry out a positive effect.
Landscapes are controlled by dynamic variables across different scales that occur within the environment. Wildfires, herbivory, climate, and development, among others, all contribute to those transformations. These types of landscape disturbances can also occur across different scales, both spatial and temporal. Consider a small brush fire occurring in the backyard of a small residential neighborhood for a few hours before becoming extinguished by the local fire department. The spatial and temporal scales of this type of landscape disturbance are minimal. When compared to the Cerro Grande wildfires that occurred in New Mexico during May of 2000, the effects of the same type of disturbance are vastly different. As a result, the Cerro Grande Prescribe Fire had burned over 45,000 acres for almost 2 weeks and will have left the landscape in a dramatically different state (NPS, 2000). We can see the vastly different effects of each of the same disturbance on the landscape.
These scaling effects may be applied to other types of landscape change as well. In many studies, landscape ecologists such as Monica Turner, Dean Urban, and J.A. Wiens are including issues of scale as an integral part of their research. It is now evident that "every change in scale [brings] with it changes in patterns and processes (Wiens, 1989.)" All landscapes are dynamic including anthropogenic landscapes.