Droughts of the 21st century are hotter, longer, and exacerbated by human water use. This situation is leading to increased vulnerability of ecosystems to drought, including a rise in drought-driven tree mortality and other transformations in our ecosystems. Such impacts send a ripple effect through human communities that depend on those ecosystems for critical goods and services. Despite the high costs to both nature and people, current drought research, management, and policy perspectives often fail to evaluate how drought affects ecosystems and the natural capital they provide to human communities. Methods for integrating community-generated information on ecosystem services into research and decision-making in western U.S. socio-ecological systems provides a model for other drought-impacted ecosystems, and is an essential step toward addressing the rising risk of drought in the 21st century. We will discuss a novel approach for engaging with local stakeholders to generate community-based information and perspectives that can be connected to spatially explicit biophysical drought indicators.
Deploying this novel, interdisciplinary approach in ecosystems in the western U.S. (New Mexico and California) allowed for detailed cataloging of the provision and demand for services in these drought-impacted systems. These catalogs were linked to geospatial mapping products and biophysical indicators, which lead to improved capacity for economic valuation and prioritization of ecosystems and ecosystem services. Preliminary results from engaging with local stakeholders connected to drought-impacted ecosystems in the Upper Missouri Headwaters (UMH) region of western Montana has revealed a strong need for an ecosystem services-based approach to address the complex socio-ecological impacts of drought in the region. Ongoing work aims to correlate community-based information on ecosystem services with key biophysical variables in UMH watersheds to inform local drought planning efforts as part of the National Drought Resilience Partnership. This interdisciplinary approach shows promise as a means of integrating and prioritizing ecosystem services in local-scale drought planning and natural resource management.