NRE 530 Project: Summary

The broad demographic trends observed over the past 25 years suggest that the Turner thesis is alive today. Population growth in the West is accelerating at a pace not seen since the late 19th century (see mean population movement). This pressure has led many Western leaders to decry federal control of their limited resources. These claims often include a call for relaxed federal control of land, transferance of management decisions to the states, or even privitzation of federal lands. However, the legitimacy of the foundation of Westerners' claims must be questioned given the gravity of the policy implications and the potential for ecological harm.  

To analyze the legitimacy of these claims, I developed the Friction Potential Index (FPI). FPI is an aggregate of three criteria applied to a macro (state) level and a micro (county) level. The criteria look at population growth, density of population, and proportion of youth in the population as indicators of future land disputes, or "friction." States and counties are ranked according to their performance on each of the indicators, then the ranks for indicators summed. Finally, the sum of the indicator ranks, or Friction Potential Score (FPS), is ranked against all other states and counties (respectively). The final rankings comprise the FPI.

Although I inteded the index to be reflective of change, not static levels, the method was much more accurate on the macro level. The methodology, while admittedly rudimentary, succeeded in making sense of the population change experienced by so many communities. Clearly, on the macro level, population is increasing much more rapidly in the West. When analyzed in a predictive index, the trend seems to point towards land disputes in the West.

 Due in part to data limitiations (I could not normalize the total acreage of counties by including only non-federal, or available, land) and the chaotic nature of dynamic systems, I did not see the pattern replicated on the micro level. Rather, the West was just as likely to experience land disputes (according to the FP Index) as other regions. However, when normalized through GIS by the proximity to federal lands, and the results allowed for a larger number of counties (and not just the outliers), the trend did again appear. Of the top 100 FPS scorers, almost 30% dropped out when normalized by federal lands. Of the top 500, 22% dropped out. Of the counties that dropped out, all were in regions other than the West.

Upon further examination, however, I found that looking at such a narrow band of counties was contradictory to what is intuitive about the West. It is young and growing, not established like the megalopolis of the Northeast. Therefore, it does not make sense for the growth to put Western counties at the top of the FPS list, but it does place many of them in the top quartile. Although conscious of the importance of scaling strucutres in analyzing dynamic systems, I failed to include this knowledge in my initial methodology. When corrected, the pattern replicated itself across the two scales. With these caveats in mind, the map of the top 500 counties represents my prediction of where public disharmony is likely to arise due to land-use and availability issues.


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