You are here:
Combining ecosystem services assessment with structured decision making to support ecological restoration planning
Martin, D., M. Mazzotta, AND J. Bousquin. Combining ecosystem services assessment with structured decision making to support ecological restoration planning. ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT. Springer-Verlag, New York, NY, 62(3):608-618, (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-018-1038-1
Ecosystem services are regarded as the natural characteristics of ecosystems that benefit people. Accounting for ecosystem services in environmental decision making is an emerging research topic for conserving wildlife and restoring ecosystems. Although there are substantial bodies of literature for measurement of ecosystem services, there have been relatively few attempts to bring the approach together with structured decision making. In this article, we develop a general approach for incorporating ecosystem services assessment into a structured decision making process for environmental management. We demonstrate the approach a case study on the Woonasquatucket River watershed, Rhode Island. We engaged with decision makers at the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council (the Council) to identify objectives for restoring damaged or destroyed wetland sites in the watershed based on the ecosystem services that can be provided by those wetlands. The analysis was based on EPA's Rapid Benefit Indicators approach for assessing social benefits of ecological restoration. With support from the Council, we developed a decision support tool to guide the organization in selecting candidate restoration sites that have the most balanced impact on five ecosystem services - flood water regulation, scenic landscapes, learning opportunities, recreation, and birds - and on social equity and reliability that ecosystem services will continue at a site in the future. The Council is using the tool to support their thinking about restoration site design and implementation in the watershed. Our approach is general and fills a unique niche for ecosystem services assessment.
Accounting for ecosystem services in environmental decision making is an emerging research topic. Modern frameworks for ecosystem services assessment emphasize evaluating the social benefits of ecosystems, in terms of who benefits and by how much, to aid in comparing multiple courses of action. Structured methods that use decision analytic-approaches are emerging for the practice of ecological restoration. In this article, we combine ecosystem services assessment with structured decision making to estimate and evaluate measures of the potential benefits of ecological restoration with a case study in the Woonasquatucket River watershed, Rhode Island, USA. We partnered with a local watershed management organization to analyze dozens of candidate wetland restoration sites for their abilities to supply five ecosystem services-flood water retention, scenic landscapes, learning opportunities, recreational opportunities, and birds. We developed 22 benefit indicators related to the ecosystem services as well as indicators for social equity and reliability that benefits will sustain in the future. We applied conceptual modeling and spatial analysis to estimate indicator values for each candidate restoration site. Lastly, we developed a decision support tool to score and aggregate the values for the organization to screen the restoration sites. Results show that restoration sites in urban areas can provide greater social benefits than sites in less urban areas. Our research approach is general and can be used to investigate other restoration planning studies that perform ecosystem services assessment and fit into a decision-making process.