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Scoping the potential use of ecosystem service accounting protocols in environmental analysis

Project ID: 4942
Principal Investigator: Christopher Eder
Research Topic: Ecosystem Needs
Funded Fiscal Years: 2014
Keywords: ecosystem services, ecosystems services accounting, environmental economics, methods

Research Question

Can existing ecosystem service accounting protocols help a) cost effectively direct data collection and b) structure environmental analysis? To satisfy demand for ecosystem services trading, several entities have developed ecosystem service accounting protocols, sets of common indicators and methods that can quantify environmental effects on a specific resource in a single metric or "currency." One such protocol, the Willamette Partnership's Salmon Habitat methodology, integrates indicators like, large wood, cover, and hydrology to quantify the functional value of habitat to salmon species.

Need and Benefit

The environmental community and Reclamation are in the midst of a fundamental shift in how environmental analyses take place. While statutes like NEPA and the ESA have long required consideration of environmental impacts, new developments like the SECURE Water Act, a recent focus by the OMB on ecosystem service valuation, and heightened judicial scrutiny require a more holistic and strategic approach to analysis of entire ecosystems. Not only are these analyses broader in scope, but they often involve longer term, adaptive approaches to analysis and decisionmaking.

The development of standardized and more complete ecosystem service accounting protocols presents an excellent opportunity to realize efficiencies in the collection and analysis of environmental information. Several protocols exist and they each share three traits: a fixed set of environmental indicators, standardized methodologies and practices for assessing those indicators, and an accepted method of translating these indicators accepted metrics of ecosystem function and service, often referred to in terms of a currency. Each of these factors can provide substantial benefits to Reclamation:

A - A pre-identified set of ecosystem indicators would allow the development of standardized methods of data collection and analysis. Not only would this reduce uncertainty in planning, but it creates incentive to invest in improved tools for data collection and analysis, such as unmanned aerial reconnaissance, enhanced GIS software, and improved models.
B - The use of standardized, multivariate protocols can provide a more complete picture of ecosystem function at a lower cost by addressing complex ecosystem interactions in a systematic and comprehensive way. This improves the value of the information for decision making, enhances the legitimacy of the decision making processes, and makes the final decision more durable in the face of judicial and scientific scrutiny.
C - The expression of environmental information in standardized metrics facilities the use of information in multiple contexts including future environmental analysis processes, as a performance indicator when comparing return on investment between activities, the monetization of ecosystem service benefits, or the sale or purchase of ecosystem service credits.

In the PN Region, the Willamette Partnership, has develop a standardized protocol for to quantify impacts and benefits to salmon habitat. The protocol uses a standardized formula to identify the functional performance of a water body for salmon from a set of core ecosystem functions: biotic support, prey base, habitat formation, temperature regulation, spatial separation, variable velocity, and channel diversity. The protocol also provides methods to measure habitat function using high level indicators like the presence of large wood, depth, and substrate. The salmon protocol could provide substantial benefits to the ESA program. One, identification of a single measure of performance

Contributing Partners


Research Products

Literature review and research proposal

This information was last updated on February 27, 2015
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