PSU-led coalition takes new approach to valuing nature's benefits to Washington D.C.
Author: Christina Williams
Posted: November 12, 2013

A coalition of partners led by Portland State University is traveling to Washington, D.C. today to conduct a series of briefings about a new standard of quality in the assessment of the social, economic, and environmental benefits that nature provides. These benefits, called ecosystem services, are increasingly recognized for their contributions to preventing flooding, preserving habitat, mitigating the effects of climate change and many other valuable services. 

Representatives from PSU, Defenders of Wildlife and other organizations are meeting with congressional representatives, members of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and a variety of other federal resource agency staff. During the briefings, the coalition will present a new set of principles designed to guide more comprehensive assessments of ecosystem services, such as natural watershed management, and the multiple benefits of healthy forests and wildlife habitats.

The Cascadia Ecosystem Services Partnership, a program launched by PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions with support from the Bullitt Foundation, convened a workshop in July bringing together 30 scientists, researchers and practitioners from the private sector. After two days of intense collaboration, the group came up with a set of 10 principles to guide assessments of natural systems taking into account the full spectrum of social, economic and ecological values.

Now the coalition is presenting these principles to Washington officials in an effort to get them widely adopted and informing federal natural resource decisions. 

“These principles require rigorous analysis of all of nature’s benefits by interdisciplinary teams of scientists, not just economists,” said David Ervin, environmental economist and senior fellow at PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions. “If adopted, they will add greater credibility to the ecosystem assessment process in government and in the private sector.”

For example, the principles would expand the conventional approach to protecting Pacific Northwest waterways by considering values beyond dollar amounts. A more comprehensive assessment would include the cultural values held for salmon resources and the biodiversity found in the floodplain. 

“The diverse group of experts who helped us frame this more sophisticated approach to valuing ecosystem services all agreed that simply using an economic lens isn’t sufficient,” said Sara Vickerman, Senior Director for Biodiversity Partnerships at Defenders of Wildlife. “Effective land use and resource management decisions require a full accounting of economic, social and environmental benefits.” 

The full set of principles and context from the creators is available for download in PDF form here