NCEAS Workshop 2: A Standard Assessment Framework for Ecosystem Services

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1 NCEAS Workshop 2: A Standard Assessment Framework for Ecosystem Services Organized by the National Ecosystem Services Partnership, Duke University, NatureServe, and Defenders of Wildlife and hosted by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) in Santa Barbara, California. August 20-22, 2013 Background and Meeting Objectives Many organizations recognize that incorporating ecosystem services into planning and decision-making processes can potentially lead to better ecological and social outcomes for all stakeholders. However, a consistent and feasible framework to accomplish this goal has yet to be established. Members of the National Ecosystem Services Partnership are collaborating to develop such a framework to guide federal agencies, NGO s, and other organizations in incorporating ecosystem services into their planning and decision-making processes. Two technical working groups have been convened to help develop (1) guidance on methods that federal agencies and others can use to conduct ecosystem service (ES) assessments and (2) consistent and potentially scalable metrics that can be used in ES assessments nationwide. One working group is focused on ecological production and measurement of services (meeting at NCEAS) and the second working group is focused on integrating social sciences into the measurement and valuation of ecosystem services (meeting at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center [SESYNC]). Initial meetings of each group took place in early 2013, with a second meeting of the NCEAS group occurring August 20-22, The NCEAS working group consists primarily of experts in the natural sciences, but also includes experts in economics, decision analysis, and other inter-disciplinary backgrounds. The first pair of technical working group meetings at NCEAS and SESYNC informed a draft methods framework for incorporating ecosystem services into natural resource planning. This second NCEAS workshop focused on identifying and quantifying scalable and transferable metrics that can be used to measure changes in the provision of ecosystem services. Metrics quantify the changes in ecological production resulting from management activities and also link those changes to stakeholders. Ideally, metrics will be scalable, meaning they can be applied at a local (or project) level and also at regional and national levels. Metrics should also be transferable in that the same set of metrics could be applied to any geographic area within the U.S. Prior to this workshop, several pilot projects were identified to begin outlining the connection between management activities and ecosystem services using meansends diagrams. These diagrams graphically represent the connections between management activities, natural resources, and ultimately ecosystem services stakeholders. The group was charged with answering key questions about this approach and its feasibility in identifying metrics, using the pilot studies as a starting point for discussion: Is the overall approach logical at multiple scales? 1

2 To what extent can regional or national data be applied at the project or planning unit scale? How can project level data roll-up to provide consistent and meaningful data at regional and national scales? How well can metrics developed for a specific pilot study be applied to other similar areas (i.e. fire management in the Sierra Nevada mountains and fire management in the southern Coast Plain.) Are there both planning issues and metrics that are common across different geographies and agencies? Is data to quantify these metrics readily available at present? Where do data gaps exist? How can we fill those gaps in the long-term and work around them in the short-term? Meeting Summary Scaling, Scalability, and Transferability. We identified two groups of datasets, one at the regional/national scale, and one at the project/site scale, with planning unit falling between the two. The group concluded that regional and national data can be used to inform the planning unit level, but cannot be applied at that level. The lowest acceptable level to apply national data would be at an ecoregion level. Unfortunately, some local managers are reluctant to apply national level data to their projects as they believe the data is too coarse to be useful. Augmenting national scale data with local data could make the most sense to managers perhaps a gap that midscale data could fill. The Institute for Natural Resources at Portland State University has developed a dataset at 30-meter resolution with refined attributes on forest condition that can be applied at the multi-watershed, subecoregion, or even ecoregion level. This type of dataset could be very useful in ES accounting, providing a link between regional and project/site data and also could be rolled-up to a national scale relatively easily. The group concluded that scalability is a three-step process: disaggregation, abstraction, and reaggregation of metrics. Disaggregation is the process of separating a broader resource, such as water, into metrics tied to stakeholder groups at the project scale (municipal water supply, agricultural water supply, boating, fishing, swimming, etc.). This step ensures double counting is allowed or avoided when appropriate. These disaggregated metrics then need to be abstracted into a common form at the project level to be comparable across regions and scaleable (i.e. using local water quality parameters such as days dissolved oxygen thresholds were exceeded or # user days for of boating). To roll these project level metrics back up to the national scale they need to be re-aggregated across multiple related services (i.e., converting local water quality exceedences for specific pollutants into days any water quality standard was exceeded, or aggregate days of individual recreational activities into a total number of user days for all water based recreation). If abstraction is feasible, metrics can be reaggregated and applied at the national scale for encompassing categories of services. Re-aggregation allows us to answer broad ecosystem services questions such as How are we doing with water for recreational users? We discussed the potential for existing national datasets or new midscale datasets to be available everywhere to improve consistency of metrics across geographies and applications. While the usefulness of national data at the project scale is now limited, new midscale datasets could improve this. It also seems likely that similar regional or local scale datasets may be available, allowing similar metrics with relatively similar data to be the basis for common metrics. The Means-Ends Diagram Approach. In the context of ecosystem services and planning, means-ends diagrams force land managers to be explicit in how they think management activities will affect 2

3 ecosystems and ecosystem services, either helping to identify those services that will be affected by management, or flipping this around, identifying management activities most likely to meet objectives related to ecosystem services. They also help identify potential trade-offs among the production of various services, or opportunities for leverage and production of co-benefits. Discussions regarding the means-end diagrams approach aimed to answer a series of questions: At what scale(s) are they useful and at what scales(s) can they be populated with data? Across site, project, and planning unit scales? How will they be used? Where will they be used? The group generally agreed that means-ends diagrams provide a useful starting point for a discussion on ecosystem services and how they relate to management activities. They offer a good opportunity to compare the impact of different management activities and consider combinations of management activities, which is key to many planning processes. They also help to consider trade-offs and cobenefits, which the diagrams make concrete. They are particularly useful at the planning unit and project scales, which are also the scales that alternative management actions would be evaluated. Alternatives would be most commonly evaluated at the project level, but could also be considered at the planning unit level, albeit with less detail, which would make the means-ends diagrams less robust. Developing Measures and Metrics. The means-ends diagrams can also inform the development of measures and metrics to quantify the ecosystem services outcomes of different measurement choices and for monitoring ecosystem services outcomes over time. The group collected information on the data that might be available to provide baseline data and trends assessments for a suite of common services like climate regulation (C stocks and fluxes), water provision to municipal and agricultural uses, recreational activities, and for existence value for biodiversity or ecosystems. We talked about how data can be used directly or combined using various models. We also discussed the need for models (that include relevant production functions) to compare and explore management alternatives and scenarios. We noted that models are available for climate regulation or greenhouse gas fluxes, for fire risk and somewhat for flooding risk, but that models for other aspects of water and for species or wildlife were largely insufficient. Determinants of Value. Based on a paper by Boyd and Wainger (2002), the group also discussed the usefulness of considering determinants of value when designing measures (indicator or proxies) for each service. Determinants of value would take into consideration aspects of the service that might not be captured in evaluating only the primary benefit of the resource (i.e. water quantity provided by a forest), such as irreplaceability, substitutability, and scarcity of the resource (i.e. if this forest stand is removed, how much of an influence will that action have based on the locations of other nearby forest stands supporting the same resource). The group concluded that determinants of value are useful in thinking about all aspects of a project and its potential outcomes, but was not certain that the design of measures was the right place for their consideration. The determinants tend to be considered later in the decision analysis or valuation process. Recommendations to EcoInforma and EnviroAtlas. Ancillary to the primary discussions on scalability and transferability, the group also discussed a number of recommendations for EcoInforma 3

4 and EnviroAtlas (efforts underway by the federal agencies in response to the PCAST 1 report) that could help provide the necessary data and modeling framework for quantifying and modeling ecosystem services. Ultimately, a framework for the collection and curation of environmental data is needed. This framework would enable the collation of data into a single storage space so land managers know the data available to assist them in ecosystem services assessments and valuation (and other projects). Ideally, this space would also have the capacity for user to request data sets to be created, and those projects would be undertaken by the most appropriate group. The framework could provide a mechanism for synthesizing new data sets and would hopefully allow for long-term curation of data sets. EcoInforma could potentially provide this framework. EnviroAtlas, developed by EPA and part of EcoInforma, may be a good source for this data collection and distribution. As EnviroAtlas is currently being beta tested. Samantha Sifleet (EPA EnviroAtlas representative) strongly encouraged feedback on EnviroAtlas. The working group came up with a list of recommendations that was submitted to EPA ( Outline of Draft Paper (Short). The group sketched a rough outline for a peer-reviewed journal article that will discuss the need for ecosystem services-based planning and management and present the general methods identified by the two working groups for conducting such assessments. The paper will also outline current data gaps and needs for a federally supported system potentially linked to EnviroAtlas and EcoInforma. Next Steps. The group identified two topics that should be central to the next SESYNC working group meeting (possibly in Spring 2014): (1) identifying social datasets and models for understanding and predicting how people value and use ecosystem services and (2) understanding how to determine the avoided costs of regulatory action (a metric for biodiversity relevant to protected species). Over the coming months, the NCEAS working group will be revising the draft guidance document on ecosystem services assessment methods. Work will also continue on developing scalable and transferable metrics and on identifying applicable datasets, models, and data gaps that will be relevant for conducting ecosystem services assessments. 1 PCAST July Executive Office of the President President s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology Report To The President Sustaining Environmental Capital: Protecting Society And The Economy 4

5 Workshop Participants Attendee Affiliation Bob Deal USFS Christy Ihlo Nicholas Institute David Saah SIG-GIS Dean Urban* Duke University Emily Schieffer Nicholas Institute Frank Casey USGS Janet Cushing USACE Jimmy Kagan Institute for Natural Resources John Fay [r] Duke University Lydia Olander* Nicholas Institute Lynn Maguire Duke University Mark Plummer [r] NOAA Micah Effron NOAA Rebecca Moore [r] BLM Samantha Sifleet EPA Sara Vickerman Defenders of Wildlife Sarah Howell BLM Trista Patterson [r] USFS Lisa Wainger [r] University of Maryland * = co-leader [r] = remote attendee Workshop Presenters Attendee Affiliation Elizabeth Martin USGS Derek Masaki USGS 5

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