Thursday, August 6, 2009 - 10:30 AM

OOS 39-8: Ecosystem services, scientific information, and decision making

Carl D. Shapiro, United States Geological Survey, Greg Arthaud, USDA Forest Service, and Richard L. Bernknopf, U.S. Geological Survey.

Background/Question/Methods Conservation, resource management, restoration, and development decisions are informed with information about ecosystem services and the impacts to the services with alternative decisions.  Understanding the relationships among ecosystem services and the values associated with different services is important to informed decision making.  This decision process involves uncertainty, is iterative in many cases, and is characterized by learning – it is in fact, an adaptive process.
One of the critical questions in the Western U.S. is where will the water come from?  A broader question is what are the sources of water and what are relevant joint or competitive processes?  The valuing of ecosystem services is a stepwise process that starts with basic biological, physical, and chemical science knowledge, moves through ecosystem service production functions combined with forecasting, and concludes with either markets or evaluation of alternatives and associated resource trade offs. Valuation requires a synthesis of physical and ecological processes, geographic relationships, economic principles, and institutional factors.  
We need to assess and understand production processes for services and the impacts of changes in the quantities of some services on the production of other services.  How will resource management decisions affect target services and what are the secondary and the tertiary impacts of these changes on other services?  In turn, what happens as this process unfolds and adaptation occurs?  Underlying the process is the final intention – to make informed and the best possible decisions.  
We need to also understand the impact of scale and of vertical and horizontal spatial impacts on the production process and on valuation.  What is the impact of the production process being distributed across different locations?  How do distances between beneficiaries and the production process affect valuation?  What is the effect of alternative institutional structures on ecosystem service production, use, and values?


In summary, determining the value of ecosystem services needs to be placed in the context of a dynamic world.  Resource management decisions will change quantities, use, and values of targeted ecosystem services and these changes will affect the quantity, use, and values of other ecosystem services.  All of this needs to be considered in an adaptive decision framework, recognizing that valuation estimates represent a snapshot at a specific point in the process.  We need to understand the context of these snapshots within a dynamic process if ecosystem service valuation is to effectively inform decision making.