Applying the Ecosystem Services Concept to Public Land Management

By Kline, Jeffrey D.; Mazzotta, Marisa J. et al. | Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, April 2013 | Go to article overview

Applying the Ecosystem Services Concept to Public Land Management


Kline, Jeffrey D., Mazzotta, Marisa J., Spies, Thomas A., Harmon, Mark E., Agricultural and Resource Economics Review


We examine challenges and opportunities involved in applying ecosystem services to public land management with an emphasis on national forests in the United States. We review historical forest management paradigms and related economic approaches, outline a conceptual framework defining the informational needs of forest managers, and consider the feasibility of its application given the types of ecological information typically available and the expanding set of services considered in management decisions. Economists can make their work more relevant to managers by broadening their focus to include qualitative approaches and more directly and effectively collaborating with managers and natural scientists.

Key Words: landscape analysis, national forest planning and management, public benefits

In recent years, federal agencies in the United States and other nations have enthusiastically adopted the concept and language of ecosystem services with the hope that it will improve the process of natural resource management and its outcomes (e.g., Collins and Larry 2007, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity 2010, President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology 2011], The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA], the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA], and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS] are a few examples in the United States (e.g., Hogan et al. 2009, EPA 2009], Despite this burgeoning interest and years of related work by economists and others since at least the 1960s to describe nonmarket benefits, many challenges remain for making ecosystem service concepts operational in resource management decisions. Here, we consider these challenges as they apply to management of public lands in the United States. Although our discussion and conclusions are applicable generally, we focus on issues specific to the USDA Forest Service and its management of national forests. Our work is based on our involvement with a team of Forest Service managers and researchers exploring ways to address ecosystem services in national forest management decisions (e.g., Smith et al. 2011, Asah, Blahna, and Ryan 2012, Kline and Mazzotta 2012],

The USDA Forest Service manages 193 million acres of forest and grassland in 44 states. The ecosystem services derived from these lands have direct impacts on both rural and urban communities by providing water, recreation opportunities, and other forest-related benefits. The concept of ecosystem services formally was incorporated into national forest management under a new planning rule (USDA Forest Service 2012] that requires forest personnel to address ecosystem services as they prepare national forest plans. By extension, although not explicitly required by the planning rule, forest managers may consider outcomes generated by ecosystem services as they conduct project-level assessments. The Forest Service hopes that the ecosystem service concept will allow forest managers to tell a richer story to Congress and the public about the benefits and tradeoffs associated with managing national forests, support decisions that promote sustainability and facilitate partnerships with local communities, cities, and other entities that benefit from forest ecosystem services to accomplish needed ecosystem restoration on national forest lands. Adoption of the ecosystem service concept by the Forest Service is one part of an emerging "all lands" approach to landscape management that seeks to administer public lands for their various ecosystem service benefits while providing incentives for supplemental management activities on private land that can augment efforts to manage public land (USDA Forest Service 2006, Collins and Larry 2007],

For decades the Forest Service has invested in developing methods for measuring nonmarket benefits and incorporating those economic benefits into national forest planning documents and project-level assessments. Yet those efforts have not led to widespread application of economic principles and methods in national forest management (Loomis and Walsh 1992, Morton 2000, Loomis 2002], National forest managers still struggle with how to demonstrate the value of national forest management to the public and to stakeholders. …

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