Accounting for U.S. ecosystem services at national and subnational scales

Science Center Objects

Ecosystem services - the benefits that nature provides to society and the economy - are gaining increasing traction worldwide as governments and the private sector use them to monitor integrated environmental and economic trends. When they are well understood and managed, ecosystems can provide these long-term benefits to people - such as clean air and water, flood control, crop pollination, an...

Ecosystem services - the benefits that nature provides to society and the economy - are gaining increasing traction worldwide as governments and the private sector use them to monitor integrated environmental and economic trends. When they are well understood and managed, ecosystems can provide these long-term benefits to people - such as clean air and water, flood control, crop pollination, and recreational, cultural, and aesthetic benefits. Within the U.S. government, a memo issued by the White House Council on Environmental Quality in October 2015 charged agencies with incorporating these values in planning, investment, and regulatory processes.

Natural capital accounting - a tool being used in dozens of countries globally and by the private sector - tracks changes in ecosystem services and directly ties these changes to costs and benefits across different economic sectors. Yet, the compilation of a data, modeling, and valuation infrastructure to support natural capital accounting in the U.S. has not yet occurred. This working group will build on these international standards, completing three synthesis activities that build a foundation for a national natural capital accounting system. We will first compile existing natural capital accounting-relevant data nationwide, linking and quantifying environmental-economic trends over time. We will next run national scale biophysical models of ecosystem services using a cloud-based modeling system linked to national spatial datasets hosted by USGS and others. Finally, we will apply natural capital accounting at the subnational scale, within a landscape managed by multiple Federal agencies and for which economic data to value ecosystem services are available and policy applications are apparent.

Our approach will provide a rigorous and replicable assessment process to support more sustainable natural resource management for Federal agencies and the private sector. Finally, we will identify uncertainties, data and methodological gaps, and next steps needed to advance natural capital accounting science and policy applications in the U.S. and beyond.

This group is co-sponsored by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center.

Principal Investigator(s):

Kenneth J Bagstad (Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center)

Jane Carter Ingram (Ernst and Young)

Carl D Shapiro (Science and Decisions Center)

Participant(s):

Justin A. Johnson (University of Minnesota)

Monica Grasso (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Scott Wentland (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis)

James Boyd (Resources for the Future)

Glenn-Marie Lange (World Bank)

Kirsten Oleson (University of Hawaii)

Brian Voigt (University of Vermont)

Charles Rhodes (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

François Soulard (Statistics Canada)

Michael Vardon (Australian National University)

Ferdinando Villa (Basque Centre for Climate Change)