In 2011, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a report calling for increased agency focus on the benefits to communities provided by natural systems.1 The report reflected a growing recognition—among scholars, resource managers, and communities—that natural systems provide benefits to people in the form of ecosystem services such as water purification, coastal storm surge mitigation, flood protection, and temperature regulation.2
Federal agencies are enhancing their natural resource planning to better accommodate assessment and maintenance of ecosystem services. This guide supports those efforts by identifying relevant technical tools, valuation methodologies, and legal analyses. It also presents actual agency explorations and applications of an ecosystem services planning and management framework.
Agency motivations for including an ecosystem services approach to their natural resource planning and management vary by agency, location, and management issue but generally fall into five categories.
Appreciation of ecosystem services could generate innovative forms of investment in resource restoration, conservation, and management. That perception prompted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to support scientific, policy, and economic understanding of carbon sequestration (“blue carbon”) in coastal wetlands. This work helped establish the first Verified Carbon Standard for blue carbon in voluntary carbon markets. The U.S. Forest Service used ecosystem services concepts to establish new partnerships, including the Denver Water Watershed Management Partnership, and conservation incentives for private forest owners (Cool Soda All Lands Restoration Proposal).
Evaluation of ecosystem services could increase the cost-effectiveness of resource management decisions. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is examining ecosystem services in the context of identifying funding opportunities at the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, an effort that could help refuge managers take advantage of one local government’s potential dedication of revenue from a sales tax increase to investments in open space. If refuge managers can develop a credible ecosystem services model for regional planning, it could assist local governments in identifying available parcels that provide the most benefits for dollars spent.
Assessment of ecosystem services could improve decisions, particularly those involving disparate impacts on multiple ecosystem services, trade offs between use and non-use values, or conflicts among resource users.The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) undertook a comparative analysis of ecosystem services assessment methods and tools in the context of three management scenarios involving mesquite removal, urban growth, and water augmentation in the San Pedro watershed of southeast Arizona. It used the methods and tools (including ARIES and InVEST) to assess changes in carbon sequestration, water provisioning, biodiversity, and cultural (recreational and aesthetic) benefits. A second BLM study involves the application of ecosystem services assessment methods to examine water availability and scenic values in support of an oil and gas development in eastern Utah.
An ecosystem services decision-making framework could help agencies prioritize projects and build partnerships to support those priorities by more formally identifying direct and indirect benefits and impacts with respect to affected stakeholders and communities. Managers at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge could use that framework to make the case that restoring water flows in the refuge could reduce the frequency and duration of wildland fires, generating multiple benefits. At the refuge, a history of modification to natural hydrology, coupled with more recent increases in the incidence of droughts, has led to more frequent, more severe, and longer wildfires in the peat bogs. The resulting smoke has been linked to increases in hospital admissions in downwind communities. Reducing this fire risk would be beneficial for the listed species for which the refuge is managed as well as for nearby residents, whose exposure to smoke has resulted in an increase in hospital visits. An ecosystem services decision-making framework could also help communities better understand their co-dependence in terms of upstream and downstream actions and consequences and allow refuge managers to garner local support for refuge projects and investments.
Examination of ecosystem services and their changing ecological conditions could enhance resilience of lands, water, and wildlife in a context of climate change by pointing to worthwhile investments in the protection or restoration of floodplains, sea marshes, forested watersheds, or other natural systems. In an effort to begin stabilizing particularly vulnerable shorelines and enhancing the ecological health and resiliency of estuarine habitats,NOAA partnered with The Nature Conservancy,the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, and Coastal Environments Inc. to create a living shoreline (artificial oyster reef) project along highly eroding marsh coastline in southeast Louisiana.
Attention to ecosystem services may also support public involvement in natural resource management by explicitly addressing public values and benefits in project proposals. Early engagement in project visioning can increase transparency and trust, thereby increasing the potential for successful project implementation. The U.S. Forest Service has used ecosystem services to drive public involvement in its Marsh project in the Deschutes National Forest. By examining management alternatives through an ecosystem services lens, the public at large and local communities have been able to actively and effectively engage in the project’s planning.
Numerous federal statutes, regulations, and practices include requirements, tools, or aspirations support measurement of, assessment of damage to, and creation and protection of ecosystem goods and services. In particular, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) offers a foundation for undertaking ecosystem services evaluation. In addition, federal agency resource management plans provide another, related context for applying a landscape-scale ecosystem services framework. Yet another foundation for ecosystem services evaluation is provided by the Clean Air Act (Section 302(h)), which describes adversity to public welfare caused by air pollutants as including impacts to soils, water, vegetation, animals, and wildlife. Regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are finding value in incorporating ecosystem services into new air quality standards. For example, nitrogen and sulfur deposition (from airborne NOx and SOx) can increase acidification and nutrients (eutrophication) of streams and lakes, affecting fishing, boating, and swimming as well as aesthetic values. The EPA is updating NOx and SOx standards to account for such impacts.
Many analytic tools, legal underpinnings, and other information can assist agencies in using an ecosystem services framework in their planning and decision making. This online guidebook is intended to provide a home for sharing tools, examples, and information. It provides an analytical framework as a foundation for the further use of ecosystem services in federal planning and management.
Daily, Gretchen C. Daily. 1997. “Introduction: What Are Ecosystem Services?” In Nature’s Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems, edited by Gretchen C. Daly, 1–10. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.
President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. 2011. “Sustaining Environmental Capital: Protecting Society and the Economy.” Working Group Report. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast_sustaining_environmental_capital_report.pdf.
Thompson, Jr., Barton H. 2000. “Leaders.” William and Mary Environmental Law and Policy 25: 261.