SimCity meets The Lorax: Simulating Community Forest Management

April 30, 2020   /  

Student: Maya M. Lapp
Major: Mathematics
Advisor: Dr. Colby Long

Melissa Schultz I.S. Research Prize
in Sustainability and the Environment
1st Place

Maya M. Lapp

As the human population grows and climate change accelerates, sustainable resource use is becoming an international concern. Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) is a method of conserving resources while simultaneously empowering traditionally marginalized communities. Because classical equation-based modeling fails to capture CBNRM complexity, Agent-Based Modeling (ABM) is becoming the primary method of modeling CBRNM. We evaluate an existing CBNRM ABM, modify the ABM to improve the model’s realism, and analyze the new model. While this model remains imperfect, we hope future work will use the model to help us understand CBNRM and apply this understanding to propagate successful CBNRM systems worldwide.

Maya will be online to field comments on May 8:
10am-noon EDT (Asia: late evening, PST 6am-8am, Africa/Europe: late afternoon)

107 thoughts on “SimCity meets The Lorax: Simulating Community Forest Management”

  1. Super interesting! I love that you took the approach of modeling a mechanism of resource management accounting for traditionally marginalized communities.

    1. Thanks Meg! I have to thank the communities in Thailand for introducing me to CBNRM – I couldn’t have done this without them!

  2. Maya, I loved this topic and how you showed a real-world application of your Math major. Great job!

  3. Great title and interesting presentation. Is the model open source? Will others be able to build upon your improvement?

    Good luck with your future and thank you for sharing your I.S. work

  4. Really interesting approach. I found myself wondering if it could be adapted to study the rate of transmission of COVID-19 — another situation in which individual behavior (self-isolating) can threaten the wellbeing of the community as a whole. Anyway, congratulations on a creative application of this method to an important environmental problem!

  5. This is fascinating! I think exploring conservation modeling in this way has some interesting real-world applications.

    1. Thanks! It’s still a growing field, but I really enjoyed working on a project that has some direct application to sustainable (and equitable) resource use.

  6. Fantastic job, Maya! It is long way from First Year Seminar “Global Issues and Engagement,” but great to see the areas of interest you were developing at that point pay off so well in your Senior project – and making the presentation so accessible and engaging.

    You focus on community based resource management is interesting. While I know you were focused in your model on forest management, are there broader lessons about engaging the local community that could carry over to promoting sustainability here in the Wooster community?

    1. Absolutely! Even though I specifically modeled a community forest, it’s based on the basic principles of CBNRM, which can apply to creating any sort of sustainable management system.

      I think the key takeaway from CBNRM research as a whole is that meaningful engagement of community members is essential to any attempts at promoting sustainability – if the community members aren’t actively involved in helping to develop projects and rules to promote sustainability, then it won’t last in the long term. Social and economic sustainability are essential to environmental sustainability.

      Specifically from the results of my model, it’s important to have consistent communication and meetings with the community members. This allows the community to adjust sustainability initiatives over time, which allows for incremental measures. This can make the overall effort more successful both because it is often more feasible and can actually eventually create policies that are more environmentally sustainable than just a one-time decision.

  7. Well done, especially with the recent sanctioning-related updates after your defense!

    1. Hi guys! Yes, I had to write a LOT of code for this project. It was both really fun and (sometimes) super frustrating. Have you guys ever done any computer coding before?

      1. Liam has done a little bit, but nothing on this scale!
        Maggie has not really, but she wants to go to Thailand.

        1. That’s awesome! What language did Liam use?

          Thailand is one of my favorite places in the world! Would definitely recommend it as a vacation spot! (And would be happy to offer suggestions of places to go if you want!)

          1. JavaScript (Liam).
            Yes, will ask you for pointers when visiting Thailand – thank you! (Maggie)

  8. Great presentation Maya!! How this simulation can be applied in the real world, what have you learned that will help non simulated forests?

    1. This model is primarily to help us understand CBNRM systems in general – not any specific forest – so it shouldn’t be used to create any specific policy decisions for an individual forest. Other CBNRM ABMs have focus on modeling specific CBRNM communities – these include parameters that are tailored to a specific location, which makes them great to study that place (and possibly develop policy suggestions), but means they are not good at generalizing to understand CBNRM systems as a whole.

      I don’t think there are any specific conclusions from my project that I can say “this is what I suggest to real forest management.” Instead, I think my IS has helped improve the realism of this model so it can help us understand these types of systems better in the future. I was particularly excited about the finding that communities meeting multiple times are better at conservation, because this is something that is found in real-world CBRNM systems, and appeared organically in the model (without me directly implementing it). This helps validate the model and make us more confident that it can help us learn more about CBNRM systems.

      Hope that kind of makes sense? It’s easier to talk about this in person…

  9. Maya,
    This is a really fascinating project, and a great example of an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving. If I was following this correctly, it seems that with the introduction of regulations and the possibility of cheating, a vast number of loggers opted to cheat – is that correct? Is there a way that the model could be adapted to better understand the conditions for increased cheating? It feels like a really sticky point here – the more regulations that are in place, the more incentive there is to skirt those regulations.

    Congrats on some really excellent work here!!

    1. Hmm… I’m not sure if I understand your question properly, but let me see if this is what you’re asking.

      So, in my model, when I included cheating, the amount of cheating depended on the level of monitoring and sanctioning of cheaters. If there was low monitoring and sanctioning, then more people would cheat, but if there was higher monitoring and sanctioning, fewer people would cheat. (This wasn’t seen in the original model.) Unfortunately, increasing monitoring and sanctioning in my model did NOT improve forest conservation (which is something we would expect from real CBNRM systems), so although it improves the equity and trust within the CBNRM system, it doesn’t improve conservation.

      Does this make sense?

      1. Absolutely – that definitely helps to get at what I’m trying to think through with the ways that sanctioning might actually incentivize cheating. Also, kudos to you for fielding all of these questions and comments in this format. It’s certainly not ideal, but you’re doing a great job!

  10. Thank you for sharing your work Maya! It is great to see your passions come together in this project.

    This shows a great partnership for academics with community organizations. Is ABM for community based organizations typically carried out by a collaboration with academic institutions?

    Will you be continuing on in applied mathematics or CBNRM?

    Best wishes and congratulations!

    1. It was so much fun to combine some of my greatest interests (math and sustainability) in this project!

      In the past ABMs have been primarily developed by academic institutions (often a collaboration between math/CS researchers and CBNRM researchers), but more and more projects have started trying “participatory modeling.” This is primarily used in projects that are trying to model a specific CBNRM community, and the researchers work with the community members to try to develop the model to better represent the community. I think participatory modeling is really cool, because it helps improve the model by including local knowledge and also helps the locals actually understand the model, so that it can be used more effectively by them (rather than just having an outside researcher say “here’s what the model says you should do” and expect them to follow the suggestion). It really helps incorporate that aspect of community participation in to the modeling process.

      I’m abandoning math and CBNRM for the moment, but hope to return to them eventually. Over the summer I’m going to be leading restoration/trail maintenance crews in the Pittsburgh public parks, and then I’m going to be teaching English in Guatemala with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos for a year. However, eventually I think I would like to apply my math background to some work in sustainability and/or environmental justice. We’ll see!

  11. Great job Maya! I really enjoyed your video. Your topic is super important and I look forward to see what you do in the future!

  12. Excellent work, Maya! It was a pleasure to get to know you these past few years. I have a few questions:

    -What’s the time scale on your model?
    -In the simplest community-based management model where the forest reached a steady state, do you have a way of quantifying the amount of biomass in that steady state?
    -How do loggers “talk” to each other in the model?

    1. 1. There is no time scale (or spatial scale) to the model. This was a limitation to the model, because it made it hard to interpret results (and figure out what was a realistic length of “time” run the model), but since the model is meant for understanding the dynamics of the system, it wasn’t too problematic. To determine the length of the simulation, we used the fact that “Trees” can fully grow back in around 40 ticks, so if this at least 20 years to occur then 2 ticks should be at least a year.

      2. Do you mean how much biomass as a real measure (e.g. kg)? If so, no. Again, the model didn’t use units for most aspects, focusing mainly on the dynamics of the system. Let me know if this wasn’t what you were trying to ask.

      3. Every “period” (10 time-steps) the Loggers would “meet.” The CBNRM rules about forest conservation was a “minimal cut.” (Loggers can’t cut down trees on a patch of the forest unless there are that many trees on the patch.) If 2/3 of the population was unhappy with the minimal cut, then they would create a new minimal cut which was the average of what all of the Loggers believed should be the minimal cut. So the “talking” was simply averaging out their agreement on a new set of rules. (Note: there was another mechanism of “talking” that wasn’t as influential to behavior and slightly more complicated to explain in writing. But I can try if you want.)

      1. Thank you! I’m curious if loggers who end up near each other in the forest talk to each other at that time (and if perhaps that’s how cheaters are caught). Or does all the talking take place at the full community level?

        1. No, it’s at the full community level. There are ABMs (e.g. Agrawal et al “Interactions between organizations and networks in common-pool resource governance”) that include social interactions (essentially a mechanism of communication between Loggers who are close to each other), but this model doesn’t include that. It would be a good thing to think about adding in the future, though!

    2. BTW don’t know if you’ll see this but congrats on the position at Canisius College! We’ll miss you!

  13. Maya, such a major congratulations on the award!! As someone who has not taken math since senior year of high school, I can safely say that you’ve done an incredible job with making this presentation accessible to all. I can tell you’re really passionate about this project, and rightfully so. Keep up the great work!

  14. Excellent work, Maya! I appreciated how you translated your project for non-mathematicians, and it was cool to see how you drew inspiration from your time in Thailand. I am excited for you that you’ll have the chance to teach in Guatemala for a year! What advice do you have for students who are interested in studying abroad but aren’t sure where to start?

    1. Study abroad advice:

      Use the Global Engagement Office! They’re great!
      I would also say – this is a great opportunity to get outside your comfort zone. Study abroad is a great chance to take advantage of experiential learning opportunities, so definitely look into “alternative” programs that aren’t just classroom based learning. You don’t get many changes like that!

      (And ISDSI is awesome so definitely check it out.)

  15. Congratulations Maya! And congratulations on your research prize in sustainability and the environment! Job well done. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us today! -J. Bowen

    1. Thanks! I’ve gotten a ton of knowledge from Wooster, so it’s nice that I can return the favor, even if it’s just a tiny bit!

  16. Congratulations, Maya! I really liked your project and I think it is super important for the current situation in the world when it comes to sustainability and rebuilding after COVID-19. Do you think you will do more modeling in the future to contribute to this area of research?

    1. Not sure, yet. Maybe. I do want to try to apply my math degree to sustainability and/or environmental justice, so we’ll see where that leads me!

  17. Congratulations Maya! It’s so great to see that your study abroad experience with ISDSI inspired such an interesting research project!

  18. Maya, this is very interesting and very well done. Great explanation via the video. Well done and congratulations!

  19. Outstanding, and so relevant where I’m living at 8000 feet in the Colorado Rockies. Very interesting – congrats and best of luck!

  20. Congratulations, Maya! I’ve heard about your topic a little before, but this made a lot more sense to me and sounds really exciting. Yay you!

  21. So great to see your important IS project, Maya! I appreciate how your project so thoughtfully integrates complex, interdisciplinary topics – as well as how it connects to your office campus study. What an amazing and smart synthesis – exactly what I would expect from your strong work in my class last fall. Also, congrats on winning the Melissa Schultz Sustainability Prize, an award that is very close to my heart. I’m so proud of you and can’t wait to see what difference you go on to make in our world! Best, Prof. Bos

    1. Thanks Dr. Bos! It’s been great to combine my different interests into something resembling a whole. I was really honored and excited to receive the Melissa Schultz Sustainability Prize. I couldn’t have done any of this without professors like you to guide me! Thanks for everything! I hope we keep in touch!

  22. Congratulations on winning the Melissa Schultz award! I really liked that you talked about nature in your video. I like nature too. Congratulations on graduating, it was nice to talk to you and spend time with you! Good luck to you teaching in Guatemala next year. Hope to talk to you soon. love, Carys

  23. A well-deserved Schultz Prize. I’m very impressed, Maya. It was great to share IS struggles with you. Congrats!

  24. Very interesting work. What made you come up with such an appropriate title? Congratulations!

    1. Thanks! I can’t take full responsibility for the creative title – several of my friends told me that my model was like SimCity when I told them about it, so I combined that with one of my favorite books of all time. Seemed appropriate!

  25. Congratulations, Maya on your presentation and winning the Melissa Schultz Sustainability Prize! Your presentation was really interesting and informative. I was wondering if the model would be able to include incentives as well as punishments in the future?

    1. It definitely could. When looking at CBNRM, usually the “incentive” is simply the well-being of the resource. (If the resource is doing well, then those using it will get more from the resource.) However, I think CBNRM ideas can be extended beyond resource use and be a template for other sustainable action. If CBNRM ideas are extended to other sustainability projects that don’t have an innate incentive, including an incentive may make sense.

  26. As I am not a person who considers herself to be math savvy, I found this presentation very interesting and easily understandable. It was not convoluted with mathematical terms, yet achieved its mathematical goal. Loved the title!

    1. Glad to hear it! Math was my tool in this project, but the core is CBNRM, so that’s what I wanted people to come away with.

  27. Great work, Maya, and congratulations on winning the Melissa Schultz prize! What a cool project that combines all of your interests so well.

    1. Thanks! It was great to have a chance to combine all of my varied interests. Thanks for checking it out!

  28. Such a cool project, Maya. Great to see common pool resources discussed so prominently and given such serious scholarly treatment. The world of sustainable resource management needs more data savvy people like you in it! Also, so nice to see your Melissa Schultz prize featured at the top of this page! A big congratulations to you!

  29. Excellent work! I love what a multidisciplinary approach you took with your project. I never would have guessed to use SimCity but your results are incredibly compelling for using it as a tool. Amazing work.
    -Also I really like your title.

    1. Thanks! I didn’t actually use SimCity itself (I used a program called NetLogo), but SimCity gets the right idea across if you want to understand the basic methods of the project.

  30. Hi Maya. Great work on a very relevant topic taking a wonderfully realistic and more equitable approach. My husband works in forest conservation locally, and I will be showing him your presentation this evening. Thanks, and congratulations!

  31. Congratulations on completing a beautiful I.S. and being awarded the Melissa Schultz Sustainability Prize. You have continued your characteristic curiosity about a range of important topics. The College was lucky to have you for the past four years, and I’m sure you will continue to contribute to every community you engage with. Best of luck!

    1. Thanks for getting me hooked into the Math Department my freshman year! I’m so lucky to have had amazing professors like you to help me get this far!

  32. I remember when you were brainstorming last summer. It’s come a long way and has turned into such an amazing IS!! Congratulations & I’ll miss you 🙂

    1. Thanks for listening to all my stressing about finding a project! I’ll miss you too! Keep in touch!

  33. Maya,
    Congratulations! Great presentation. I can really relate to your project. As a boy, I used to help my uncle harvest firewood for his home from community access US Forest Service land in Wyoming. He even had a yellow pickup truck. The forest was well regulated. I’m sure this type of modeling would be hugely valuable.

    It was a pleasure to get to know you and have you as a student! Good luck and please keep in touch.

    1. Thank you so much Dr. E! I’ll always remember Freshman year chemistry with you – I learned so much and it was a blast! (I think I even still remember why the sky is blue.) I’ll definitely keep in touch!

  34. Congratulations on the prize–well-deserved! Both the “with cheating” model and the “sanctioning” model seem to lead to regrowth, but I’m curious about how that would connect to actual forest health since old-growth (or just older) trees would have been cut in the early burst of forest depletion. Is there also modeling work being done to extrapolate the health of forests based on how many older trees remain, too? (I teach Richard Powers’s novel ‘The Overstory’ in classes on climate change and narrative, and it’s very focused on the question of what it actually means to preserve a forest!) I guess this would be the tree version of social sustainability questions. Great work!

    1. Thanks!

      Old growth forests are definitely something to consider. My model focuses only on making sure Loggers don’t take trees that are too you, but many real-world CBNRM systems also focus on protecting trees that are very old, as well. I don’t know of any work modeling that kind of thing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was out there.

      I’ve been meaning to read “The Overstory.” A lot of my friends have recommended it to me. I just finished “Braiding Sweetgrass” which is one of my new favorite books fo all time. If you haven’t read it, I would definitely recommend checking it out!

  35. Maya! Congratulations on the Melissa Schultz prize and on a beautifully explained and fascinating project. I love the topic and the way that it represents YOU and your experiences so well. Fantastic job! It has been a pleasure having you as a math major these past 4 years. We will miss you–please keep in touch!

    1. Thanks! I will definitely miss you as well. I wish I could say a proper goodbye, but I guess that just means I’ll have to come back to campus sometime. Thanks for an awesome 4 years!

  36. Hey Maya this is so so interesting! Congrats!
    Do you plan to continue working with agent-based modeling? what do you think you’ll do next?

    1. Thanks!

      Not sure what my long-term future plans hold, ABMs could be a part of them? Who knows?

  37. This is such a fantastic and important project, Maya! Thank you for sharing it & congratulations on winning the Melissa Schultz Prize!

  38. Maya, thank you for such a nice presentation on an important topic of concern to the entire society. Also, I am a fan of both the Lorax and agent-based modeling – great work, congratulations!

  39. Hello! I’m a junior at Parish Episcopal School. This project caught my eye quickly when I was perusing the website—I myself am quite into the environment and technology! This was such an interesting simulation to watch—congrats on all the hard work!

  40. So good Maya. It was neat to see the ideas you shared last summer come to fruition. I really enjoyed it. Congratulations!!

    1. Thanks for stopping by to watch! Back in the summer it seemed like this moment would be so far away, but it’s come really fast… Hope you’re doing well!

  41. Great job, Maya! Congratulations on winning the Melissa Schultz prize! Your video was excellent and your topic seems so timely and important. Best of luck to you!

  42. Dear Maya,

    Thank you so much for the great presentation of your very interesting work! I really appreciated your ideas and the way you brought us through the models and helped to connect the mathematical models to conservation approaches. Also, I think there should be a prize for best opening sentence in a presentation — yours would win it!

    Wishing you all the best for the future! Pres. Bolton

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