Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
February 2021

Exploring the Use of Ecosystem Services Conceptual Models to Account for the Benefits of Public Lands: An Example from National Forest Planning in the United States

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Exploring the Use of Ecosystem Services Conceptual Models to Account for the Benefits of Public Lands: An Example from National Forest Planning in the United States cover
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A shared understanding of the benefits and tradeoffs to people from alternative land management strategies is critical to successful decision-making for managing public lands and fostering shared stewardship. This study describes an approach for identifying and monitoring the types of resource benefits and tradeoffs considered in National Forest planning in the United States under the 2012 Planning Rule and demonstrates the use of tools for conceptualizing the production of ecosystem services and benefits from alternative land management strategies. Efforts to apply these tools through workshops and engagement exercises provide opportunities to explore and highlight measures, indicators, and data sources for characterizing benefits and tradeoffs in collaborative environments involving interdisciplinary planning teams. Conceptual modeling tools are applied to a case study examining the social and economic benefits of recreation on the Ashley National Forest. The case study illustrates how these types of tools facilitate dialog for planning teams to discuss alternatives and key ecosystem service outcomes, create easy to interpret visuals that map details in plans, and provide a basis for selecting ecosystem service (socio-economic) metrics. These metrics can be used to enhance environmental impact analysis, and help satisfy the goals of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the 2012 Planning Rule, and shared stewardship initiatives. The systematic consideration of ecosystem services outcomes and metrics supported by this approach enhanced dialog between members of the Forest planning team, allowed for a more transparent process in identification of key linkages and outcomes, and identified impacts and outcomes that may not have been apparent to the sociologist who is lacking the resource specific expertise of these participants. As a result, the use of the Ecosystem Service Conceptual Model (ESCM) process may result in reduced time for internal reviews and greater comprehension of anticipated outcomes and impacts of proposed management in the plan revision Environmental Impact Statement amongst the planning team.