Best Practices for Integrating Ecosystem Services into Federal Decision Making

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Federal agencies take many actions on behalf of the American public that influence ecosystem conditions and change the provision of a variety of ecosystem services valued by the public. To date, most decisions affecting ecosystems have relied on ecological assessments with little or no consideration of the value of ecosystem services. Best practice for ecosystem service assessments applies quantitative measures and methods that express both an ecosystem’s ability to provide people with valued services, and the social benefit (value) provided by those services. Well established preference evaluation methods, both market and non‐market economic valuation, as well as non‐monetary decision analysis methods can be used to estimate values for ecosystem services. These approaches are sometimes used by federal agencies. However, preference evaluation methods can be impractical because of time or resource constraints, particularly where new data need to be collected. In such cases, the minimum standard required for an ecosystem service assessment is to use quantitative or categorical measures that reflect the ecosystem’s ability to provide benefits to society but stop short of a formal assessment of people’s preferences. We call these quantitative measures of ecosystem services benefit relevant indicators (BRIs). Examples of BRIs include; instances of respiratory distress caused by wildfire smoke inhalation, number of bald eagles and number of people who value their existence, and storage volume of wetland areas upstream of a flood prone area with a community of 1,000 homes. While a number of insights that can be drawn from knowledge of BRIs alone, a more robust comparative analysis is provided by a more complete analysis that includes people’s preferences or values. If ecosystem service values or BRIs are not used in some manner, ecosystem services are not being assessed, and no direct insights can be drawn about effects on social welfare. This minimum best practice is broadly achievable across agencies and decision contexts with current capacity and resources.