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Moving to Higher Ground: Ecosystems, Economics and Equity in the Floodplain

Sandra L. Cooke
Department of Biology
High Point University
Elysia  Berkery
Environmental Resources and Policy
Southern Illinois University
Adelle D. Monteblanco
Department of Sociology
Middle Tennessee State University
Silvia Secchi
Department of Geography and Environmental Resources
Southern Illinois University


Healthy river systems serve a wide variety of functions, including recreation, crop production, and navigation. Effective floodplain management requires integrating cultural, economic and ecosystem needs, and often tradeoffs must be made. This case study uses role-playing, jigsaw- and discussion-based approaches to engage students in floodplain management decision-making. The case scenario is set in the real town of Olive Branch, a small community on the Mississippi River in Southern Illinois that was flooded in 1993 and 2011 and which is considering whether to move out of the floodplain.  If the community moves, the area could then undergo habitat restoration or could be used for agricultural expansion. Assuming the roles of conservation biologists, farmers, property owners, and hunters, students evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of three options: (1) not moving, (2) moving and restoring floodplain habitat, or (3) moving and allowing agricultural expansion. This case is appropriate for undergraduate courses in environmental science, environmental policy, and sociology of natural hazards.


  • Describe in writing the environmental, sociological and economic components of floodplain management and explore their interdependence.
  • Understand that the choices faced by a community involve trade-offs that may also involve social inequality.
  • Understand what ecosystem services are provided by floodplains and how different management choices affect the provision of ecosystem services.
  • Recognize that different stakeholders may value those services differently, and how different worldviews shape those values.
  • Understand that there are different kinds of methods to research an issue and different competencies in different disciplines, and all have a role to play in solving the problem.
  • Integrate quantitative and qualitative data.


Floodplain management; habitat restoration; hazard mitigation; Mississippi river; natural disasters; ecosystem services; Olive Branch

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division


PDF, PowerPoint

Type Methods

Dilemma/Decision, Discussion, Jig-Saw, Role-Play



Subject Headings

Environmental Science Geography Hydrology Interdisciplinary Sciences Natural Hazards Natural Resource Management Sociology

Date Posted


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