Ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, and how to pay for them

Brad Schleder shares this summary of class discussion of two very interesting papers that Brett Moore brought to the table.

ResearchBlogging.orgModeling multiple ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, commodity production, and tradeoffs at landscape scales

Erik Nelson, Guillermo Mendoza, James Regetz, Stephen Polasky, Heather Tallis, D. Richard Cameron, Kai MA Chan, Gretchen C. Daily, Joshua Goldstein, Peter M. Kareiva, Eric Lonsdorf, Robin Naidoo, Taylor H. Ricketts, and M. Rebecca Shaw.

The discussion began with a brief overview of the relationship of economic and ecological models. With that in mind the class explored the first paper, which examined three future development scenarios of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The intent of the paper is to quantify the range of goods and services ecosystems generate with the goal of using this information to improve land-use and management decisions. The three models are plan trend (current policies), development plan (a loosening of current development policies), and conservation (emphasis on slow development and restoration). The modeling tool used was the Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST). Being more familiar with papers that discussed their data analysis in more detail the class was unclear on how this tool worked. However, after some searching, a 49 page appendix detailing the mathematics used in the model was found, which is based on a mechanistic spatial model using ecological production functions and economic valuation methods. Models were run on water pollution, storm peak mitigation, soil conservation, carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and commodity production value.

The conservation scenario produced the largest gains, or smallest losses, in ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation with the plan trend and development plan outperforming in regards to the aggregate market value of commodities produced on the landscape. An interesting outcome of this analysis was that there was little difference between the provision of ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation. This was attributed to the conservative use of the model based on Oregon’s history of resource protection, social behaviors and land-ownership practices.

The class wrestled with a few methodologies of this model. First, the use of phosphorous as the sole indicator for water pollution was questioned. Second, using 24 vertebrate species as the only biodiversity measurement might not have been adequate. However, it was agreed that the attempt to quantify different types of development scenarios and the use of an economic framework to assess costs and benefits of ecological resources is a useful model for studying the dynamics of future development.

ResearchBlogging.orgPaying for environmental services from agricultural lands: an example from the northern Everglades

Patrick J. Bohlen, Sarah Lynch, Leonard Shabman, Mark Clark, Sanjay Shukla, and Hillary Swain

The second paper, in keeping with the economic theme, explores one implementation of a market-like program that would pay farmers and ranchers for producing environmental services. The government does provide programs such as subsidies for implementing best management practices, which are designed to increase provision of environmental services from agricultural lands. However, one disadvantage of these policies is the inability of determining their effectiveness. One proposed alternative is to create a market-like program that will encourage producers and sellers to develop innovative programs with environmental results that can be economically valued.

In the northern Everglades lands were drained for the development of both agriculture and human settlement. These land-use changes are having adverse effects on the Lake Okeechobe watershed. In addition to fragmenting wildlife habitat it has accelerated the rate of the flow of water and nutrients into regional bodies of water. This increase in nutrients has drastically affected water quality. These environmental problems prompted the Florida state legislature to create programs to decrease the water flow and increase water retention on public and private lands. In lieu of a large scale construction of above and below ground reservoirs the State began a pilot program, which is working with cattle ranchers in the affected watershed to provide water recharge and storage on their ranches. In addition to the government agencies, the program also involved the National Audubon Society, The World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy. Instead of paying for massive building projects for water storage the State would pay cattle ranchers for creating water retention areas on their properties. This project involved many agencies, much red tape and considerable negotiations from all parties. One of the most difficult parts was in determining a value for the ranchers’ environmental service. Designing this program was as much of a socioeconomic challenge as it was a technical or scientific one. The pilot program appears to be promising and there are plans to increase its size. Imperative to its continued success is the sustained involvement and good will of the parties involved.

I wondered if there was more information on other environmental services that were paid for and found several examples. On a global scale, one project investigates the potential for compensating farmers of the Peruvian Amazon to provide carbon sequestering by maintaining or increasing forest habitat on their lands. Their compensation would be obtained from carbon emitters in developed countries. In Costa Rica, private landowners are being compensated for providing water resources for their communities.

After more thought on this subject I feel that placing an economic value on the environment and the resources it provides is not only a step in the right direction, but perhaps the most effective strategy for conservation. Without placing a value on the many services that the environment provides invites the exploitation of lands for the benefit of a few and the cost to many. In essence, this is the “Tragedy of the Commons” Garrett Hardin wrote of in 1968; a parable describing the destruction of one resource shared by many, but owned by none. For example, placing a value on the hydrology of the northern Everglades takes this system out of the “commons” framework and provides incentive for its conservation for the benefit of the stakeholders affected by the harmful outcomes of individuals’ land-use decisions. This type of policy, while challenging to implement and manage, has the potential to substantially benefit both humans and the environment.


Nelson, E., Mendoza, G., Regetz, J., Polasky, S., Tallis, H., Cameron, D., Chan, K., Daily, G., Goldstein, J., Kareiva, P., Lonsdorf, E., Naidoo, R., Ricketts, T., & Shaw, M. (2009). Modeling multiple ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, commodity production, and tradeoffs at landscape scales Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7 (1), 4-11 DOI: 10.1890/080023

Bohlen, P., Lynch, S., Shabman, L., Clark, M., Shukla, S., & Swain, H. (2009). Paying for environmental services from agricultural lands: an example from the northern Everglades Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7 (1), 46-55 DOI: 10.1890/080107

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