Framework for Comparing Ecosystem Impacts of Developing Unconventional Energy Resources on Western US Rangelands
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More diverse sources of energy are needed for countries to progress toward energy independence and to meet future food production needs. The US Task Force on Strategic Unconventional Fuels concluded that to achieve this objective it is essential to develop a domestic unconventional fuels industry. Rangelands, which cover 50 to 70 of the earth's terrestrial surface and dominate much of the western half of the United States, represent a major source of alternative energy resources. A framework to systematically identify biophysical- socioeconomic links that influence the delivery of ecosystem services affected by alternative uses of rangelands has been lacking. The Integrated Social, Economic, and Ecological Conceptual framework was developed by the Sustainable Rangeland Roundtable to address this deficiency. We apply this framework to demonstrate how the effect on ecosystem services of exploiting rangeland-based biofuel, natural gas, and wind energy resources can be systematically compared. We also demonstrate the use of this framework for selecting suitable indicators to monitor changes in the biophysical-socioeconomic links affected by the development of these unconventional energy sources. This type of approach can potentially enhance coordination between federal, state, and local agencies that are attempting to set polices and regulations for the sustainable development of unconventional energy resources on rangelands.