2004 Progress Report: Integrated Modeling and Ecological Valuation

EPA Grant Number: R831596
Title: Integrated Modeling and Ecological Valuation
Investigators: Brookshire, David S. , Brand, Arriana , Chermak, Janie , Colby, Bonnie G. , Goodrich, David , Loomis, John , Maddock III, Thomas , Richter, Holly , Stewart, Steven , Stromberg, Julie
Institution: University of New Mexico , Arizona State University - Main Campus , Colorado State University , Nature Conservancy, The , University of Arizona
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: May 1, 2004 through April 30, 2007
Project Period Covered by this Report: May 1, 2004 through April 30, 2005
Project Amount: $386,213
RFA: Valuation for Environmental Policy (2003) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Economics and Decision Sciences


The objective of this research project is to link realistic policy scenarios with alternative hydrologic, riparian, and bird profiles to perform an economic valuation of changes in ecological attributes that result from changes in hydrological profiles.  We are developing a hydro-bio-economic framework for the San Pedro River Region (SPRR) that considers groundwater, streamflow, recreation, riparian vegetation, and the abundance, diversity, and distribution of birds in the region that includes the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA).  We are integrating the various disciplinary models in the project that represent either flows of scientific information or policy changes.  The specific objectives are to:  (1) develop information flows that link each discipline with the existing scientific information from each of the other disciplines; (2) use focus groups and stakeholders to define the outputs of the natural science models (e.g., policy changes or attribute vectors); (3) use state-of-the-art techniques to translate and display this information; and (4) apply economic valuation models.

This framework is a significant advance in the methodology of stated preference valuation through its focus on science-based linkages between flow regimes, habitat quality, birds, and human values.  The framework addresses many of the major issues: 

(1)  How do individuals value marginal changes in indices of ecosystem health and can such indices be used as proxies for specific benefits?  

(2)  Which benefits contribute most directly to human well-being, what are their relative values, and what are the most efficient methods of valuing them?  

(3)  What is the trade-off between the accuracy associated with more detailed benefit transfers and the more costly information necessary to provide them?  

(4)  To what extent can simpler “reduced-form” transfer functions mitigate inaccuracies?

Progress Summary:

Modeling Powersim

We are able to integrate our efforts into Phase 1 of the Decision Support System (DSS), which has been delivered to the Upper San Pedro Partnership (USPP).  In this phase, water balance components of the Upper San Pedro Basin are not treated in a spatially explicit manner.  Basin demand, conservation alternatives, and inflows and outflows are going in and out of what conceptually could be described as a large bathtub.  In Phase 2 of the DSS, spatial relationships between pumping area and reaches of the riparian and San Pedro River will be explicitly treated.  Hydrologic conditions over a river reach of the San Pedro can be translated into one of three functional riparian condition classes.  Avian changes will be linked to the riparian changes.  This will be incorporated into the DSS and analysis for this project.  Impacts of alternative growth scenarios on the riparian condition of sections of the San Pedro thereby can be evaluated.

Modeling Alternative Futures

During Year 1 of the project, we aimed to identify the range of scenarios in use for the major water-related modeling efforts completed and ongoing in the San Pedro basin.  We are nearing completion of this inventory.  For our purposes, these scenarios do not in any way represent a forecast of how the future is likely to be but instead convey a possible future state of the world, without any assigned probability.  We identified two important studies that are directly related to understanding groundwater withdrawal and its effect on San Pedro Flows.  The BBC Research and Consulting report identifies alternatives that were currently being practiced, planned, or should be considered as beneficial for the watershed.  These scenarios, or alternatives, are ways of managing water demands or providing new water sources.

Riparian Component

Using GIS coverages and a riparian assessment model developed for the Upper San Pedro River, we have developed spatially explicit, reach-scale projections of vegetation change for three scenarios of hydrologic change.  Our results suggest that reach-scale riparian ecosystem integrity on the Upper San Pedro would be sensitive to policy decisions that result in either increases or decreases in groundwater levels of 0.5 m or more.  Model outputs, as well as data on relative coverage of floodplain vegetation types according to condition class, have been given to the bird modeler.  Together, these activities constitute component development for coarse-scale vegetation modeling and forward linkage of these data to the bird modeling component.  Photographs, maps, and other information on our coarse-scale modeling approach have been supplied to the Economic Valuation and Visualization group.

Avian Component

Work during this period has focused on developing a methodology to link bird models with riparian vegetation models using a coarse-scale modeling approach at the scale of the river reach. The focus of this work has been on the four major vegetation types of the riparian floodplain, for which vegetation data representing current conditions was provided by the riparian vegetation modelers.  A forecasting methodology to project how birds may change given hydrology change scenarios at the reach scale as well as scaled up to the Upper San Pedro was also developed.  Mean and standard errors of proportions of each of the four vegetation types as a function of three condition classes were developed.  These vegetation proportions, combined with the total floodplain area, yielded vegetation areas by river reach expected under the different hydrologic scenarios.  From this, we are able to estimate bird abundance by vegetation type within river reach for current conditions and three hydrologic change scenarios.  Mathematically sound forecast errors were estimated.  The ability to reliably forecast effects of different policy decisions such as degree of water use in the desert southwest is key to improving science-based conservation planning.

Focus Groups

During this reporting period, the University of New Mexico Human Subjects Institutional Review Board approved the survey and focus group proposal.  The first two focus groups were conducted June 23 and June 25, 2005, with 4 and 10 participants, respectively.  Volunteer solicitation forms, screener, and demographic questions were developed.  Volunteers for the first two focus groups are being solicited from among University of New Mexico faculty and staff.  Participants were screened for their bird watching expertise and knowledge level of water issues in southwest riparian areas.


A comprehensive list of demographic, birding, and recreation questions was developed for the survey.  The delivery method of both the Contingent Valuation Method (CVM) and Choice Modeling (CM) surveys was drafted.  The educational aspect of the environmental good section of the survey and an outline of pertinent environmental good questions were prepared.  Design of both the CVM and CM surveys has begun.

Benefit Transfer

An intrasite transfer and a more traditional intersite transfer will be carried out and the results compared.  Originally, the plan was for the intersite transfer to be applied to the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro, New Mexico.  Concerns regarding the hydrological and avian dissimilarities between the Bosque Del Apache and the San Pedro, however, prompted an extensive evaluation of all of the potential sites in the Southwest region.  From these sites, the Middle Rio Grande, New Mexico, was selected as the best potential transfer site.  A benefit transfer memo was created to append the final report.  This memo outlines the concept and step-by-step process of benefit transfer, as well as the justification for choosing the above-mentioned sites.


Work on the visualization component of the project has successfully integrated preliminary bird species frequency model results into a GIS-based visualization system that supports both statistical plot and map generation.  Plots and maps depicting encounter rates for individual bird species and of multiple bird species have been developed for a sample transect along the entire length of the SPRNCA.  These visualization products are derived from the random generation of bird locations within each of the 14 reaches for each of three scenarios (baseline 1, scenario 1 [.5m groundwater drawdown], and scenario 2 [1 m groundwater drawdown]), for each of six bird species.  An initial photographic visualization has been developed based upon high-resolution digital photos taken within the SPRNCA in November 2004.  The visualization combines the photographs in a Quicktime movie that conveys a visual sense of motion through space, experiencing a combination of habitat and condition class types.

Future Activities:

Modeling Powersim

The next steps will include designation of the appropriate scenarios to drive the model.  We will begin over the next months a dialogue with the USPP to gain some insight as to the appropriate scenarios.

Modeling Alternative Futures

The Alternative Futures Study scenarios ask, “If climate in the future was X and population was Y and the distribution and magnitude of water uses is Z¾what would the San Pedro River look like?”  Given that these types of scenarios are more in line with the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change definition and our interest in valuing ecosystems, we expect that the scenarios that we will ultimately develop in Year 2 will follow along the lines of the Alternative Futures scenarios.
Riparian Component

Our major objectives will be:  (1) finish component development and forward linkage of the coarse-scale modeling; and (2) begin and complete the fine-scale vegetation modeling component.  In addition to the “space-for-time” approach used in our vegetation modeling to date, we will project vegetation responses to hydrologic change more mechanistically, using a simulation model of riparian vegetation dynamics.  Results of the fine-scale modeling will be scaled up using GIS to represent riparian vegetation patch dynamics for selected reaches of the San Pedro under scenarios representing alternative water use policies.  We will develop a manuscript comparing fine- and coarse-scale approaches for projecting riparian ecosystem response to hydrologic change on the Upper San Pedro River.

Avian Component

Major objectives during Year 2 include completion of coarse-scale modeling, as well as progress on fine-scale modeling and benefit transfer.  Avian output numbers and written documentation of the forecasting methodology will be provided to economic modelers.  Possibly enhancements to the forecasting methods could be used if deemed necessary by the vegetation and economic modelers.  For fine-scale modeling, I will model avian population change through the Effective Area Model to assess the potential impacts of variation in vegetation composition, structure, and spatial arrangement resulting from different ground-water draw-down scenarios.  For benefit transfer, an index will be developed representing categories of birds in high biologic integrity versus low biologic integrity riparian areas applicable to novel locations such as the Middle Rio Grande that can be used in economic valuation survey efforts.

Focus Groups

Subsequent focus groups will be conducted at University of New Mexico, University of Arizona, and the transfer sites.  It is anticipated that additional focus groups will be held in October in Albuquerque and in the fall in Arizona.


Survey questions for the environmental good will be developed further to include the pricing mechanism.  The following sections of the survey will also be developed:  warm-up questions, attitudinal questions, reminders, valuation questions, protest behavior, and importance questions.

Benefit Transfer

In the subsequent reporting period, the transfer site (Middle Rio Grande) will be examined.  The service being valued at these sites will be compared to the service valued in the SPRR.  Additionally, similarity of physical attributes, resource quality, and availability of substitutes will be determined at the transfer sites.  Demographic, visitation, and stakeholder similarities will also be investigated.  An index will be developed for multiple ecological attributes or an overall ecological index capturing all attributes as an intermediate information level between traditional valuation and best science valuation.


During Year 2 of the project we will:  (1) collect and capture representative photographs of different habitat and condition classes from within SPRNCA and the BT areas for generating the photographic visualization; (2) identify the subset of visualization methods for Phase II and III Focus Groups; (3) streamline and automate ingestion of model outputs into the GIS for streamlined generation of graphics as new model data become available; (4) develop initial Internet interface for survey instrument.

Journal Articles on this Report : 1 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other project views: All 3 publications 1 publications in selected types All 1 journal articles
Type Citation Project Document Sources
Journal Article Brand LA, Noon BR, Sisk TD. Predicting abundance of desert riparian birds: validation and calibration of the effective area model. Ecological Applications 2006;16(3):1090-1102. R831596 (2004)
  • Abstract from PubMed
  • Supplemental Keywords:

    ecological effects, indicators, scaling, terrestrial, aquatic, habitat, public policy, decision making, ecology, hydrology, mathematics, modeling, analytical, southwest, willingness to pay, survey, water, non-market valuation, preferences, avian communities, riparian, vegetation, simulation modeling, Arizona, AZ, New Mexico, NM, indicators, biotic integrity,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Air, Geographic Area, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, climate change, State, Air Pollution Effects, Economics, Monitoring/Modeling, decision-making, Atmosphere, Social Science, Economics & Decision Making, contingent valuation, ecosystem valuation, model-based analysis, environmental monitoring, dichotomous-choice, environmental decision making, decision support, environmental policy, Arizona (AZ), economic model, ecological models

    Progress and Final Reports:

    Original Abstract
  • 2005
  • Final