As a first step toward consistent, defensible ecosystem service assessments, this report shows how to design assessments that meet a ‘minimum standard’ of a scientifically rigorous assessment, even when time, resources or capacity are limiting.
The report also includes tangible examples of how this guidance can be relevant to different agencies, from The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of the Interior.
The examples are telling. Agency decisions and programs can clearly go beyond a sole concern for the environment, and include a joint concern for people who benefit from nature’s healthy state.
A Conservation Reserve Program site managed by the USDA could not only provide habitat for birds, reduce erosion and provide clean water, but could do so where there is a need for increased bird habitat and cleaner water. Our guidance provides a practical and feasible way to run assessments that will reveal these opportunities.
As these guidelines are developed, we are at a critical intersection: Will the last 30 years of ecosystem service science inform federal action through new standards, or will it remain irrelevant?
The answer depends on the academic community’s ability to translate best-available science into actionable approaches that fit federal agency mandates and abilities.
Building from our report, the best chance for success hinges on the development of several practical examples that show how an ecosystem service approach helps agencies fulfill their responsibilities.
Several examples are ripe for this kind of demonstration:
- Development and use of ecosystem service metrics to show how National Fish and Wildlife Foundation-funded Hurricane Sandy recovery funds or Deepwater Horizon oil spill findings are benefiting both natural ecosystems and the economy.
- Tailoring of best practices to the National Forest Service activities under the new National Forest Planning Rule, which would allow forests to be managed for timber, recreation and wildlife, and others beyond those typically considered, like air and water quality for surrounding communities or activities like foraging and educational opportunities.
- Using ecosystem services assessments to incorporate a broader suite of ecosystem services benefits and impacts into Army Corps of Engineers decisions on retiring, maintaining, retrofitting or building infrastructure like dams, freshwater or sediment diversions, and levees.
At this moment, an opportunity exists for the academic, practitioner and federal communities to work together to build new examples that translate ecosystem service science into relevant and practical information. The report released today takes a major step in that direction, toward a future where none of nature’s values are overlooked.
Lydia Olander is the Ecosystem Services Program Director at the Nicholas Institute and Heather Tallis is Lead Scientist at The Nature Conservancy.