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Data and Modeling Infrastructure for National Integration of Ecosystem Services into Decision Making: Expert Summaries

Resource managers face increasingly complex decisions as they attempt to manage for the long-term sustainability and the health of natural resources. Incorporating ecosystem services into decision processes provides a means for increasing public engagement and generating more transparent consideration of tradeoffs that may help to garner participation and buy-in from communities and avoid unintended consequences. A 2015 White House memorandum from the Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Management and Budget, and Office of Science Technology and Policy acknowledged these benefits and asked all federal agencies to incorporate ecosystem services into their decision making. This working paper describes the ecological and social data and models available for quantifying the production and value of many ecosystem services across the United States. To achieve nationwide inclusion of ecosystem services, federal agencies will need to continue to build out and provide support for this essential informational infrastructure.

Authors: Lydia Olander, Gregory W. Characklis, Patrick Comer, Micah Effron, John Gunn, Tom Holmes, Robert Johnston, James Kagan, William Lehman, John Loomis, Timon McPhearson, Anne Neale, Lauren Patterson, Leslie Richardson, Martin Ross, David Saah, Samantha Sifleet, Keith Stockmann, Dean Urban, Lisa Wainger, Robert Winthrop, and David Yoskowitz

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Ecosystem Services

National Ecosystem Services Partnership

Working Papers

Proposal for Increasing Consistency When Incorporating Ecosystem Services into Decision Making

In October 2015, the U.S. Executive Offices of the President—the Office of Management and Budget, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy—released a memo, “Incorporating Ecosystem Services into Federal Decision Making,” that directed federal agencies to develop work plans and implementation guidance by the end of 2016. But many practical questions remain about how ecosystem services can most effectively be used in decision making. This policy brief explores how to achieve consistency in the use of ecosystem services, primarily in terms of which ecosystem services are selected for assessment and how they are quantified. An initial idea for promoting consistency might be to require all decision makers to consider a common set of ecosystem services, each with a pre-defined metric. Although this strategy might seem logical, it may not provide relevant or useful information for decision makers because even fairly constrained categories of these services—say those for maintaining air and water quality, managing water quantity, and reducing risks from fire, storms, and droughts—when further refined break up into many more services that are defined by who is affected and how they are affected. For example, a water quality management issue results in a change in water quality for downstream stakeholders—which can alter services such as municipal water supplies, irrigation, fishing, swimming, and so on. Each of these services involves different stakeholder populations or beneficiaries. Moreover, each of these services might be more or less relevant in different contexts or regions. The ecosystem services that should be considered in a particular decision depend on the ecosystem type, the attributes and qualities of that ecosystem, the ways in which surrounding human communities use or appreciate the ecosystem, vulnerabilities and characteristics of those communities, and the preferences and values of human beneficiaries in different areas and policy contexts. They also depend on the temporal and spatial scale of the project, plan, program, or policy under consideration. Consequently, achieving consistency in the selection of ecosystem services to be considered is a complex task, as is achieving consistency in quantification of those services across decision contexts.

Authors: Lydia Olander, Dean Urban, Robert J. Johnston, George Van Houtven, and James Kagan

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Ecosystem Services

National Ecosystem Services Partnership

Policy Briefs

Coral Reefs and People in a High CO2 World: Where Can Science Make a Difference to People?

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere put shallow, warm-water coral reef ecosystems, and the people who depend upon them at risk from two key global environmental stresses: 1) elevated sea surface temperature that can cause coral bleaching and related mortality, and 2) ocean acidification. These rising CO2 levels may affect most of the world’s coral reefs and the populations which depend on them by 2050, according to a study the journal PLOS ONE. The study projects that countries in western Oceania would be amongst the first affected by CO2-driven coral reef stress, followed by Southeast Asian countries in the Coral Triangle such as Indonesia, which are highly dependent on coral reefs. Countries predicted to be most likely to experience severe ocean acidification are generally different from those predicted to experience the earliest onset of coral bleaching, with acidification projected to be worse for countries at the upper and lower latitudinal bounds of coral reef distribution such as Baja California (Mexico), Japan, China, and southern Australia. Unfortunately, many of the countries that are most dependent upon coral reefs are also the countries for which data are least robust, and the authors note that international and regional efforts will be needed to overcome obstacles to obtaining good data globally.

Authors: Linwood Pendleton, Adrien Comte, Chris Langdon, Julia A. Ekstrom, Sarah R. Cooley, Lisa Suatoni, Michael W. Beck, Luke M. Brander, Lauretta Burke, Josh E. Cinner, Carolyn Doherty, Peter E. T. Edwards, Dwight Gledhill, Li-Qing Jiang, Ruben J. van Hooidonk, Louise Teh, George G. Waldbusser, and Jessica Ritter

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Climate and Energy

Ocean and Coastal Policy

Ecosystem Services

Journal Articles

Ecosystem Service Concepts in Practice

Economists have long embraced the idea that services provided by nature have inherent economic value. Ecologists, other scientists, and many in the environmental advocacy community have more recently come to focus on the connection between natural systems and economic value. The broadening interest in the economic value of nature over the last two decades led to the emergence of the interrelated and now commonly used terms ecosystem services and natural capital. To inform Canadian policy, this article in a special issue of the journal Canadian Public Policy discusses some of the efforts that have been enacted elsewhere, with particular emphasis on those in the United States, and why some have been more successful than others.

Author: Brian C. Murray

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Climate and Energy

Ecosystem Services

Environmental Economics

Journal Articles

A Research Agenda for Ecosystem Services in American Environmental and Land Use Planning

This article in the journal Cities assesses pathways for integrating the ecosystem services concept into American land use and environmental planning. Ecosystem services are the beneficial products that functioning ecosystems provide to human society. Building on Ian McHarg's influential ecological planning work, the authors argue that ecosystem service-based planning frameworks may improve our understanding of the consequences of planned actions in urban-ecological systems. Using evaluations of four diverse and innovative comprehensive plans, the article examines how ecosystem services information can enhance plan specificity, investment strategies, and prioritization for policy implementation. Finally, it presents a research agenda for evaluating how the use of ecosystem services in planning could improve assessment and communication of planning tradeoffs and outcomes.

Authors: Todd K. BenDor, Danielle Spurlock, Sierra C. Woodruff, and Lydia Olander

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Ecosystem Services

Journal Articles

A Review of the Use of Early-Action Incentives in U.S. Environmental Markets

Early action can refer to activities undertaken prior to a regulatory program or the generation of a particular service before its use to mitigate an impact elsewhere. In U.S. environmental markets, early action can result in multiple benefits. One benefit is facilitation of market function by helping to generate a sufficient supply of viable, low-cost credits to buyers and gain momentum in new markets. Another benefit is providing advance mitigation, which can speed the delivery of ecosystem services. As markets emerge and mature, early action can help reduce lags in environmental performance, improve outcomes, and encourage innovation in mitigation approaches. Multiple tools have been proposed for encouraging early action in ecosystem services markets. To varying extents, these tools have also been deployed, providing valuable experience and insight into their functioning. This paper presents several case studies of how these tools have been used in wetland and stream mitigation, species and habitat banking, greenhouse gas emissions reduction and sequestration, and water quality trading. It finds that early action incentives necessary to motivate sellers differ from those necessary to motivate buyers and that interventions should account for this reality. The tool or approach best suited to encourage early action may also vary as conditions change and new barriers arise. Anecdotal evidence suggests the potential for benefits to accrue from early action, but additional data on the costs and benefits of early action are needed to inform the selection and implementation of specific tools.

Authors: Christopher S. Galik and Lydia P. Olander

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Ecosystem Services

Working Papers

Toward a Blue Economy: A Promise for Sustainable Growth in the Caribbean

Toward a Blue Economy: A promise for Sustainable Growth in the Caribbean, a World Bank report co-authored by a Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions researcher, is a guide to help Caribbean policymakers plan a successful transition to a blue economy and socially equitable blue growth. This report attempts to quantify the current ocean economy in the region and summarize projections about where we may find new pockets of sustainable growth, and define the blue economy concepts and possible policy responses that might better align economic growth and environmental health in the Caribbean. At a global level, the transition to a blue economy will significantly contribute to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 for the ocean and other goals such as poverty reduction, food security, energy security, climate change mitigation, among others.

Authors: Pawan G. Patil, John Virdin, Sylvia Michele Diez, Julian Roberts, and Asha Singh

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Blue Economy

Ocean and Coastal Policy

Ecosystem Services

Environmental Economics

Reports

Identifying and Assessing the Application of Ecosystem Services Approaches in Environmental Policies and Decision Making

The presumption is that ecosystem services (ES) approaches provide a better basis for environmental decision making than other approaches because they make explicit the connection between human well-being and ecosystem structures and processes. However, the existing literature does not provide a precise description of ES approaches for environmental policy and decision making, nor does it assess whether these applications will make a difference in terms of changing decisions and improving outcomes. This article in Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management describes three criteria that can be used to identify whether and to what extent ES approaches are being applied: (1) connect impacts all the way from ecosystem changes to human well-being, (2) consider all relevant ecosystem services affected by the decision, (3) consider and compare the changes in well-being of different stakeholders. As a demonstration of these criteria, the article looks at if and how the criteria were met in different decision-making contexts using an analysis format that describes the type of policy, the relevant scale(s), the decisions or questions, the decision maker, and the underlying documents. This format includes a general judgement of how far the three ES criteria have been applied. It shows that the criteria can be applied to many different decision-making processes, ranging from the supranational to the local scale, and to different parts of those processes. The authors conclude that these criteria could be used to assess the extent to which ES approaches have been and should be applied, to understand the benefits and challenges of applying the approaches, and to determine whether using them makes a difference in the decision-making process, the decisions, or the outcomes of those decisions. Results from such studies could inform future use and development of ES approaches, draw attention to the approaches’ greatest benefits and challenges, and inform integration of ES approaches into policies.

Authors: Joke Van Wensem, Peter Calow, Annik Dollacker, Lorraine Maltby, Lydia Olander, Magnus Tuvendal, and George Van Houtven

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Ecosystem Services

National Ecosystem Services Partnership

Journal Articles

Engaging Large Forest Owners in All-Lands Conservation: All-Lands and Large Ownerships—A Conversation to Advance Engagement Workshop, March 8, 2016, Washington, D.C.

Successful landscape-scale forest conservation and management efforts must engage a wide variety of forestland owners. Owners of large areas of forestland (more than 10,000 acres) have a particularly important role to play in the attainment of landscape-scale goals. Their cooperation increases opportunities for attaining conservation benefits at significant scale. On March 8, 2016, a group of large private landowners was for the first time brought together with federal, NGO, and academic thought leaders to generate ideas for improving engagement on landscape-scale conservation goals. The dialogue was designed to identify barriers to and options for that engagement. These proceedings summarize the dialogue of meeting participants in addressing an “all lands” approach to conservation whereby landowners and stakeholders collaborate on identifying long-term, mutually beneficial goals for the landscapes they share. It includes a profile of large institutional forestland owners and details the results of a survey conducted to measure their current engagement in conservation activities. Participants identified barriers to engaging large forest landowners in conservation. They include the absence of an inclusive vision for the future of forest management, insufficient leadership for building diverse coalitions to address forest threats, lack of alignment of existing federal programs with respect to large ownership structures, limited understanding of the public benefits provided by large privately owned forests, and lack of markets to sustain these benefits. Participants recognized the need to define a shared conservation vision, to build leadership for a broad coalition of stakeholders, and to execute a national strategy recognizing the value of and providing incentives for large private landowners to cooperatively address forest threats. Much discussion centered on building the business case for conservation and on recognizing new values and expanding markets. Participants also considered opportunities for aligning the incentive-based approaches of funding agencies with the needs and interests of forestland owners. A steering committee was formed to consider developing specific strategies to incentivize engagement of large forestland owners and to work toward a collaborative vision for attaining conservation objectives across varied ownerships.

Authors: Eric Smith, Lydia Olander, Paul Trianosky, and Andrea Bedell-Loucks

 

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Ecosystem Services

Land

Proceedings

Contributions of LiDAR to Ecosystem Service Planning and Markets: Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Investment

Municipalities are increasingly interested in using light detection and radar (LiDAR) technology to support a variety of markets, services, and planning processes. Consequently, they are contemplating how best to justify investments in improved data when not all of the investments’ costs and benefits are amenable to quantitative estimation. They are also contemplating who benefits from the investments and how to address any inequities in either costs or benefits. This paper reviews the drivers and co-benefits of expanded LiDAR data investment by local government entities and presents a case study of forest carbon markets in California to illuminate how this investment compares to investment in the acquisition of field sampling and other data. The study suggests that LiDAR can be cost-competitive with traditional field-sampling approaches under certain conditions or assumptions, and it may offer advantages and some benefits that may not accrue from field-based approaches. In addition, the study reinforces the conclusion of other research that conditions, approach, and assumptions strongly influence analysis outcomes, in turn reinforcing the need to tailor analyses to the research question at hand. Although the case study lends insight into the tools available for assessing the costs and benefits of LiDAR data acquisition, several uncertainties remain, including how LiDAR and other improved data fit into national policy dialogues and program funding discussions.

Author: Christopher S. Galik

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Environmental Markets

Ecosystem Services

Working Papers

Pages