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Assessing Future Ecosystem Services: a Case Study of the Northern Highlands Lake District, Wisconsin

Garry D Peterson, McGill University
T. Douglas Beard Jr., Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Beatrix E Beisner, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Elena M Bennett, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Stephen R Carpenter, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Graeme Cumming, University of Florida
C. Lisa Dent, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Tanya D Havlicek, University of Wisconsin-Madison


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The Northern Highlands Lake District of Wisconsin is in transition from a sparsely settled region to a more densely populated one. Expected changes offer benefits to northern Wisconsin residents but also threaten to degrade the ecological services they rely on. Because the future of this region is uncertain, it is difficult to make decisions that will avoid potential risks and take advantage of potential opportunities. We adopt a scenario planning approach to cope with this problem of prediction. We use an ecological assessment framework developed by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment to determine key social and ecological driving forces in the Northern Highlands Lake District. From these, we describe three alternative scenarios to the year 2025 in which the projected use of ecological services is substantially different. The work reported in this paper demonstrates how scenarios can be developed for a region and provides a starting point for a participatory discussion of alternative futures for northern Wisconsin. Although the future is unknowable, we hope that the assessment process begun in this paper will help the people of the Northern Highlands Lake District choose the future path of their region.

Key words

Northern Highlands Lake District, Wisconsin, assessment, ecosystem services, freshwater, futures, prediction, scenario planning
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087