This research advances the transdisciplinary science of coastal ecosystem services by integrating ecological, economic, geomorphological, and engineering model efforts. Our focus is on natural infrastructure, which we define broadly as a physical stock (i.e., durable physical quantities) that constitutes restoration of, or extension to natural ecosystem components. We aim to understand the nature and determinants of socially-optimal investment in natural infrastructure in coasts and estuaries from an economic perspective. The economic theory of investment provides the conceptual foundation for our research. Socially-optimal investment maximizes total economic value (TEV): uncertain benefits of an investment net of costs over time. Focusing on a selection of natural infrastructure types, we have multiple non-market valuation efforts on-going in the Pacific Northwest to measure the expected benefits of such investments to society, expected direct costs, and expected co-benefits from provision of ancillary ecosystem services. The values obtained from this work will provide necessary inputs to develop optimal investment plans for each infrastructure type along coast and estuaries of Oregon and Washington.
We have determined that coastal protection, salt marsh restoration, dune habitat management, and urban "natural" infrastructure provide the best opportunities to value coastal ecosystem services from green infrastructure investments. In this talk, I will discuss results of economic valuation efforts from these four pathways, including both “revealed preference” methods that use the revealed behavior of people to infer individual values that may be aggregated to estimate public values and “stated preference” methods that estimate public values using individuals’ stated choices (e.g., survey responses) as the building blocks. Specific results will include estimates of public willingness to pay for coastal protective structures, improvements in population sized for endangered species (e.g. Oregon Coast coho salmon, western snowy plover, pink sand verbena), removal of invasive beach grasses, and restoration of native Pacific NW dune habitat. I will then discuss the challenges that lie ahead with incorporating these economic values with ecological production functions to develop new models to determine where, when, and how society could optimize investments in coastal natural infrastructure.