Historically, the role of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in water resources management has focused on water-borne navigation and flood control with the aim of balancing economic and environmental concerns. With increases in competition among water uses and growing fiscal constraints, the Corps has become interested in ecosystem services concept as a way to assess the benefits of its activities. This concept aligns well with its water resources mission of “providing innovative and environmentally sustainable solutions to the nation’s water resources challenges.1 Some restoration projects have begun to investigate the possibility of considering ecosystem services in their plans. At the same time, the Corps is exploring a systematic, agency-wide approach to incorporating ecosystem services into planning processes.2
The Corps initiated a work unit tasked with exploring the challenges and opportunities of integrating ecosystem services into the Corps’ planning efforts. The ultimate goal of the unit is to develop a practical framework for incorporating analysis of ecosystem services in planning processes and for evaluating management alternatives.3
In 2013, the Corps released two documents that represent initial efforts to tackle this goal. The first, “Incorporating Ecosystem Goods and Services in Environmental Planning: A Literature Review of Definitions, Classification and Operational Approaches,” lays the foundation for meeting the goal by reviewing key concepts and best practices and outlining how they may be best applied to existing Corps processes.4 The second report, “Using Information on Ecosystem Goods and Services in Corps Planning: An Examination of Authorities, Policies, Guidance, and Practices,” reviews existing Corps policies, authorities, and guidance that may allow or impede incorporation of ecosystem services into planning processes.5 According to this report, one impediment could be a project’s purpose. The purpose of aquatic restoration projects, for example, is to restore degraded ecosystems to more natural conditions. Under current guidance, these projects’ measurable outputs are related to species and habitat, potentially putting other ecosystem services, even significant ones, outside the scope of the projects’ purpose.6
Prior to presentation of a framework for integrating ecosystem services assessments into planning efforts, prospective reports will examine available tools and models, present case studies of Corps projects that involve ecosystem services assessments, and discuss interagency coordination.7
Reed, D., L. Martin, and J. Cushing. 2013 Using Information on Ecosystem Goods and Services in Corps Planning: An Examination of Authorities, Policies, Guidance, and Practices. 2013-R-07. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Tazik, D., J. Cushing, E.O. Murray, and L. Wainger. 2013. Incorporating Ecosystem Goods and Services in Environmental Planning: A Literature Review of Definitions, Classification and Operational Approaches. ERDC/EL TR-13-17, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center.
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