Environmental Planning and Policy

In a world characterized by ecological and social change, the field of Geography provides tools to better understand natural resource systems and inform environmental planning and policy. Our faculty explore natural resources management in theory and in practice in a variety of ways. We look at the impacts of climate change on marine and terrestrial systems, explore ways to facilitate and better account for ecosystem service provision, examine the dynamics of wildfires and other natural disasters, study the effects of changes in water availability on agriculture and watershed processes, and work to improve mechanisms for protecting forest, rangeland, and ocean ecosystems. We also explore the use of GIS, and public participation in GIS, to improve natural resource decision-making and planning.


man marking up a map

Participatory Mapping of Human Coastal, Marine and Watershed Uses in the Pacific

Working with local natural resource managers and communities in Hawaii and American Samoa, we have generated maps of human uses and activities in priority sites for coral reef management. Using Participatory GIS and other methods, this information is intended to better inform local agencies and communities about the range of human interactions with natural resources in these areas, minimize conflict, and facilitate the development of natural resource management strategies that account for both ecological conditions, as well as human use and significance.

front page of common ground site

San Diego Bay Watershed Common Ground

This project was created to incorporate data from water quality monitoring programs and integrate this data on a watershed level using a web-based interactive application to serve as a broad communication, education and decision-making tool; and to further develop the region's capacity to understand and assess processes affecting our water resources.

spiny lobsters

Climate Change Impacts on the Sustainability of Key Fisheries of the California Current System Leave geography site

The ocean off the California coast supports productive commercial and recreational fisheries that are important to human cultures, quality of life, livelihoods, and the economy along the U.S. West Coast. Climate change is expected to alter the oceanic system and contribute to changes in fish populations that will directly affect the behavior and profits of people who fish, as well as actions of fisheries managers. This collaborative study brings together oceanographers, fisheries scientists, economists, and social scientists to develop a better understanding of interactions among the climate and coastal ocean system, fish populations, fishermen and fishing communities, and resource management, focusing on three key commercially harvested species that are known to respond to environmental change: Pacific sardine, California market squid, and California spiny lobster.

sheep livestock

Production of and Payment for Ecosystem Services in the Andes

Andean páramo grasslands have long supported human populations that depend on them as forage for livestock and have been increasingly recognized for their large soil carbon stores, their high levels of plant diversity, and as critical water sources. Recent conservation efforts have used payment for ecosystem services (PES) to incentivize land management that supports provision of ecosystem services related to water, carbon, and biodiversity, while also improving local livelihoods. However, data needed to support land management recommendations have been lacking. Our research fills this gap through an investigation of land management effects on carbon storage, water storage, biodiversity, and livelihoods in páramo grasslands, providing data for PES policy-makers and program managers.



  • Sustainability from a geographic perspective, focusing on role of everyday practices in creating sustainable places. Case studies illustrate geographic variations in the social organization of people/nature relationships and emphasize connections across global, local, and individual scales.

  • Scientific understanding of human-environment systems; sustainable management of natural resources under changing global conditions; role of science in addressing environmental issues and development of environmental and conversation policy.

  • Management of environmental and natural resources. Effective programs and the institutional frameworks in which they occur.

  • Theoretical and practical approaches to land use management. Current and relevant techniques and policies at local, state and federal levels, aimed toward providing healthy and environmentally sound communities that provide positive benefits to society and the economy. Field trips may be arranged.

  • Population distribution, growth, and characteristics as they relate to environmental degradation, both as causes and consequences. Roles of women, sustainable development, carrying capacity, optimum population, and policy initiatives in relationships between population and environment.

  • Importance of society, environment, and location in the use, management, and quality of recreation areas. Direct observation of practices and policies with field trips to local (San Diego) areas and an optional four-day trip to Yosemite National Park.

  • Theories and principles involved in natural and environmental resources management.

  • Natural and environmental resource conservation. May be repeated with new content. See Class Schedule for specific content.

  • Spatial analytic techniques from image processing, remote sensing, geographic information systems, cartography or quantitative methods. May be repeated with new content. See Class Schedule for specific content.