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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, expanded since its initial publication in November 2016, 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, Eric Lonsdorf, John Loomis, Timon McPhearson, Anne Neale, Lauren Patterson, Leslie Richardson, Taylor Ricketts, 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

So You Want Your Research to Be Relevant? Building the Bridge between Ecosystem Services Research and Practice

There is growing demand for information regarding the impacts of decisions on ecosystem services and human benefits. Despite the large and growing quantity of published ecosystem services research, there remains a substantial gap between this research and the information required to support decisions. Research often provides models and tools that do not fully link social and ecological systems; that are too complex, specialized, and costly to use; and that are targeted to outcomes that differ from those needed by decision makers. Decision makers require cost-effective, straightforward, transferable, scalable, meaningful, and defensible methods that can be readily understood. This article in the journal Ecosystem Services provides illustrative examples of the gaps between research and practice and describes how researchers can make their work relevant to decision makers by using benefit relevant indicators (BRIs) and by choosing models appropriate for particular decision contexts. These examples are primarily drawn from the United States, and they include cases that illustrate varying degrees of success in closing these gaps. The article includes a discussion of the challenges and opportunities researchers face in adapting their work to meet the needs of practitioners.

Authors: Lydia Olander, Stephen Polasky, James S. Kagan, Robert J. Johnston, Lisa Wainger, David Saah, Lynn Maguire, James Boyd, and David Yoskowitz

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Ecosystem Services

Journal Articles

Use of Preservation in North Carolina Wetland and Stream Mitigation

To better protect the nation’s wetlands and streams, the Clean Water Act allows use of compensatory mitigation to replace the benefits of lost wetlands and streams. This study summarizes North Carolina’s use of preservation for compensatory mitigation by private mitigation banks and a state-operated in-lieu fee (ILF) program. Within private mitigation banks, preservation activities have generated 5.6% of wetland credits and 9.1% of stream credits since 2008. Within the state in-lieu fee program run by the Division of Mitigation Services, 45.0% of wetland credits and 6.2% of stream credits have resulted from preservation. However, a majority of the wetland credits generated by preservation in the ILF program came from one site described as unusually large by program staff. Since 2008, North Carolina’s ILF program and mitigation banks have continued to use preservation at relatively low rates for both wetland and stream mitigation. Mitigation providers have stated that the clarity of the state’s preservation policy makes it easier for preservation to be included in projects in North Carolina than in projects in some other states. Notably, between 2012 and 2015, no wetland preservation was used for mitigation by the ILF program.

Authors: Ben Young, Lydia Olander, and Amy Pickle

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Ecosystem Services

Working Papers

Integrating Large-Scale Planning into Environmental Markets and Related Programs: Status and Trends

Building on earlier efforts, guidance from the federal government on mitigation for environmental impacts recommends the use of large-scale plans, preferably carried out in advance of impacts, to steer both development and mitigation. The idea is that advanced planning can improve site selection for proposed projects and increase the return on investment for mitigation while helping to provide greater predictability for project proponents, increase the efficiencies of project review, reduce permitting times, and support better environmental results. This paper explores progress in integrating large-scale, spatially explicit planning into environmental markets and programs in the United States. Through interviews with experts and review of the gray literature and government documents, it identifies examples of large-scale planning in these programs. It describes how the planning is guiding decisions about impact avoidance and compensatory mitigation, whether the planning is required or optional, and if the planning incorporates co-benefits or other regulatory-driven priorities. The assessed programs cover wetlands and streams, at-risk species, water quality, stormwater, greenhouse gases, and natural resource damages. They range from somewhat centrally planned programs in which spatially explicit planning is more common to distributed, market-based approaches in which such planning is less common. Large-scale planning appears to face few barriers to development and use, but its uptake may be limited by other factors like cost and time, uncertainty in the required spatial models, or insufficient proof of value. There has been little study of such planning’s investment return, environmental outcomes, or permitting time. 

Authors: Lydia P. Olander and Ben L. Young

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Ecosystem Services

Working Papers

North Carolina’s Ocean Economy: A First Assessment and Transitioning to a Blue Economy

North Carolina’s ocean and coastal areas and their resources shape a unique and important segment of the state’s economy, particularly for its eastern region. From seafood and commercial fishing opportunities, to access to global markets through shipping and transport, and finally tourism and recreation, thousands of jobs and billions in revenue for the state depend on the ocean and coast. Yet to date, this segment of North Carolina’s economy has not been identified as a discrete contributor in the state. This working paper provides a first assessment of the existing information available to measure the size and extent of North Carolina’s ocean economy, and proposes next steps to transition to a blue economy.

Authors: Jane Harrison, Amy Pickle, Tibor Vegh, and John Virdin

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Blue Economy

Ocean and Coastal Policy

Ecosystem Services

Environmental Economics

State Policy

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

Filters

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

Filters

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

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