Ecosystem services in decision making: time to deliver

Daily, G. C., Polasky, S., Goldstein, J., et al. Ecosystem services in decision making: time to deliver. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 7 (1) : 21-28 2009

This article is definitely an "idea" article. They authors present a framework for how to actually achieve the laudable goal of monetizing nature in a way that can more easily make ecosystem services part of policy. They give some examples of land management in Hawai'i, and they mention a system they are working on called InVEST, which should help to actually achieve the goal, but I feel that for the most part this is (as advertised) a very conceptual paper. I like their framework for how the different parts of the process interact (i.e. where does biophysical science come in, where does social science come in, where does actual policy engineering come in, etc). It makes the whole thing seem very proceedural, which I find matches my own mental approach to these kinds of things, but does not represent the reality I'm coming to understand regarding ecological management: this is not a cycle between steps (ecosystems, services, values) but an interconnected web. Given that this is an idea paper, I suppose I would have liked a little more complexity in the ideas they've brought up, though perhaps that's not appropriate for a short Frontiers article. I don't have a good sense for how groundbreaking it is because I'm not familiar enough with the literature to know how much has been done to actually realize this kind of economic valuation of ecosystem services. They pitch it as if it is pushing the edge of the envelope - they point out that the concept has been around for a long time but that little progress has been made on the ground, and that they are trying to point the way. I think it does the job of pointing in a particular direction, though I suppose I am also not really surprised by the structure they come up with. It sounds a lot like many of our mind-maps on restoration from the last weeks, though more organized of course. Is it that we are at the cutting edge or is the field still really stuck on how to combine these different aspects of restoration and conservation?

Figure credit: the Natural Capital Project, on the download page for InVEST.

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