EPA Science Inventory

In Oregon, the EPA calculates nature's worth now and in the future

Citation:

Bolte, J. P., R. B. MCKANE, D. PHILLIPS, N. H. SCHUMAKER, D. WHITE, A. F. BROOKES, AND D. M. OLSZYK. In Oregon, the EPA calculates nature's worth now and in the future. Solutions. Solutions, Burlington, VT, 2(6):35-41, (2011).

Description:

Ecosystem services are the many life-sustaining benefits we receive from nature — clean air and water, food and fiber production, greenhouse gas regulation, maintenance of biodiversity, etc. These ecosystem services are vital to our well-being, yet they are limited and often taken for granted as being free. Society is in the early stages of developing processes and methodologies to quantify and value these ecosystem services. In response to this critical need, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated the Ecosystem Services Research Program to help assess the benefits of ecosystem services to human well-being, and, in turn, to inform policy and management actions of local, state and federal governments and other decision makers that aim to address immediate needs and long-term (years to decades) planning goals. As part of this national research program, we established the Willamette Ecosystems Services Project (WESP) in the Willamette River Basin (WRB) of Oregon, USA. The WRB covers an area larger than the state of Maryland and supports a mosaic of freshwater, agricultural, forest and recreational resources, as well as several growing urban centers and their water supplies. There is considerable interest by citizens, businesses, and local and state governments in sustainable economic growth. A number of key services of interest to EPA were identified that address the role ecosystems play in regulating stream water quality and quantity, biological sources of greenhouse gases, wildlife populations and habitat, fish populations and habitat, air quality, and production of food and fiber (timber and biofuels). WESP focuses on two pressures that have the greatest potential to significantly alter ecosystem services within the WRB: climate change and land use/land cover management. Here we describe a robust decision support framework, Envision, which links environmental data, mapping tools, models and economic valuation methods for projecting future effects of alternative decisions that affect the quantity and distribution of ecosystem goods and services within landscapes. We demonstrate how we are applying Envision to the entire WRB to quantify tradeoffs among multiple ecosystem services in response to alternative scenarios of future population growth and land management for the time period 2010-2060.

Purpose/Objective:

Ecosystem services are the many life-sustaining benefits we receive from nature — clean air and water, food and fiber production, greenhouse gas regulation, maintenance of biodiversity, etc. These ecosystem services are vital to our well-being, yet they are limited and often taken for granted as being free. Society is in the early stages of developing processes and methodologies to quantify and value these ecosystem services. In response to this critical need, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Willamette Ecosystem Services Project is developing a variety of tools and approaches for quantifying ecosystem services and informing the decision-making that affects these services. Central to our approach is the use of alternative future scenarios to capture the interactive effects of management choices and other drivers of landscape change, so that tradeoffs in ecosystem services of interest to communities, land managers, and other stakeholders can be played out and evaluated. We employ an alternative futures decision framework and toolkit, Envision, to integrate spatial data describing landscapes, models representing biophysical and sociocultural processes within landscapes, policy sets reflecting decision alternatives of interest to stakeholders, and evaluative models for measuring trajectories of landscape performance. We have successfully prototyped applications of this approach for the Willamette River Basin in western Oregon. These applications combine scenarios of human population growth and forest management strategies affecting vital ecosystem services: provision of forest products, carbon sequestration, regulation of water quality and quantity, maintenance of wildlife populations and habitat, and the capacity of the landscape to support further population growth. Work currently underway is developing additional models and assessment tools for fish and terrestrial population dynamics, hydrological and biogeochemical processes, and valuation of ecosystem services in monetary and nonmonetary term. Our ultimate goal is to better assist decision makers in balancing environmental, economic, social and institutional criteria over timescales relevant to immediate needs and long-term planning goals.

URLs/Downloads:

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Evaluating Ecosystem Services in the Willamette River Basin, Oregon   (PDF,NA pp, 12 KB,  about PDF)

Record Details:

Record Type: DOCUMENT (JOURNAL/PEER REVIEWED JOURNAL)
Projected Completion Date: 11/01/2011
Record Last Revised: 10/23/2012
Record Created: 09/26/2011
Record Released: 09/26/2011
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 238454

Organization:

U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

OFFICE OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

NATIONAL HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS RESEARCH LAB

WESTERN ECOLOGY DIVISION

ECOLOGICAL EFFECTS BRANCH