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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary 2 Ecosystem Services R&D INTRODUCTION Although much is known about ecosystem services, a number of research gaps exist, and there are opportunities to strengthen collaboration. One of the major goals of this workshop was to discuss the current work of federal agencies in ecosystem services’ R&D related to sustainability while, at the same time, identify opportunities for program/project collaboration. Ecosystem services are the ecological processes that sustain and fulfill human life. General distinctions exist between provisioning, cultural, and regulating ecosystem services. Examples of these services include: Provisioning—food, fresh water, fiber, and fuel; Cultural—aesthetics, spiritual or educational, recreational betterment of humankind; Regulating processes that mitigate floods, purify air, and control agricultural pests.1 The public is generally aware of provisioning and cultural ecosystem services, and institutions have been created to manage them, but regulating ecosystem services tend to be less recognizable to the non-technical community. Many federal agencies have created R&D programs and projects related to ecosystem services and sustainability. Common research foci among the federal agencies’ research and development strategies include aspects of climate change, 1 Accessed on: 4/11/08, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, http://www.maweb.org/en/index.aspx
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary life cycle assessments of multiple resources, ecological monitoring, climate modeling, ecosystem management, and holistic, place-based ecosystem analyses. A goal of the Federal Sustainability R&D Forum was to share information about current R&D in ecosystem services, which was accomplished in part through descriptions of “state of the art” examples by various federal agencies, but also through group discussions during the workshop. A larger goal for the Forum, in addition to learning about each agency’s programs and activities, was to identify synergies, gaps, connections, and future opportunities in ecosystem services R&D. ECOSYSTEM SERVICES: SUSTAINABILITY CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES As broadly defined by Steve Carpenter, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, ecosystem services sustain human life. Carpenter began his presentation by defining types of ecosystem services and outlining areas of weakness in the R&D community related to ecosystem services, also noting that significant research efforts already exist. During this session, Carpenter explained that there are often gaps in policies aimed at managing a single natural resource because those policies do not always account for impacts on various other resources with that ecosystem. Based on his research and experience conducting the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (Figure 1) (http://www.millenniumassessment.org/en/index.aspx, Accessed on 4/2/2008), Carpenter elaborated on gaps and opportunities in ecosystem services R&D. He outlined four major gaps: theory, multi-scale connections and interactions, monitoring and indicators, and design of institutions or policies. Although much of the science that is needed to manage ecosystem services exists, more work needs to be done to close the gaps in R&D. Theory Carpenter expressed the need for developing indicators that look at where a system is heading to support the theoretical framework surrounding ecosystem services. As the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment noted, ecosystem services relate to well-being in different ways, their linkages have different degrees of intensity, and they respond differently to socioeconomic factors. Researchers, for example, should examine the connections between ecosystem services and human well-being to ensure that management is based on human and ecological components. Gaps exist in the understanding of ecological heterogeneity and diversity. Carpenter pointed out that vulnerability/risk assessments need to be thorough and account for potentially drastic changes in ecosystems. Institutions must adapt to the changing needs of both the human and ecological systems.
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary FIGURE 1 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Available at: http://www.MAweb.org Multi-Scale Connections, Interactions, and Tradeoffs Carpenter emphasized the effect of regional processes on local ecosystem services, as well as the impact of local events on regional ecosystem services. Gaps exist in policies aimed at managing a single ecosystem service that do not adequately account for the effects on other ecosystem services. For example, in the central valley of California, many critical ecosystem services are tied to water resources, and as a result, high correlations exist between water resources (quantity, quality, availability) and the ecosystem services in that region. Tradeoffs will
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary be important in recognizing that one management approach cannot be applied to all local-scale ecosystems services. Depending on the unique characteristics of a particular region, tradeoffs may vary. For example, the production of biofuels will have different impacts depending on the characteristics of individual ecosystems, and therefore synergies and conflicts will need to be evaluated by decision makers. Additionally, a given region often provides a “bundle” of ecosystem services; there is a knowledge gap in assessing the bundles of services available (e.g., a plot of forested land with value for its carbon sequestration might also have monetary value to hunters) and also assessing which policies might shift a region from one bundle to another with minimal disruption. Problems exist across local, state, and national levels. There is need for the R&D community to integrate political scales—with institutions and policies at multi-scale levels. There will be progress as NGOs, universities, federal agencies, and the private sector work together and build trusting partnerships. Monitoring and Indicators Carpenter noted that despite advances in monitoring technologies, we continue to lack sufficient uninterrupted time series data to accurately reflect socio-ecological dynamics. He also noted that we lack a set of generally agreed upon ecosystem services indicators/metrics which take into account human well being, scale, and direction (where the system is headed). Monitoring and assessment of ecosystem services can be improved by creating a standard set of indicators that include comprehensive time-sensitive information on land cover change, locations and rates of desertification, spatial dynamics of freshwater quantity and quality, stocks, flows, economic value of ecosystem services, and trends in human use of ecosystem services. Design of Institutions or Policies A key constraint in identifying effective strategies to create economic incentives supporting ecosystem services is the lack of empirical data documenting the effectiveness of various approaches. Challenges include building institutions to manage use and tradeoffs of ecosystem services, using real-world problem solving to manage services for adaptability and resilience. When looking specifically at federal and local programs, Carpenter noted the gap in coordinating ecosystem management tools across sectors and agencies to address current and future challenges. Currently, society demands a large and increasing amount of natural resources. As a result, it is critical that the management system strengthen the resiliency and adaptability of natural ecosystems.
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary FEDERAL POLICIES AND RESEARCH PRIORITIES RELATED TO THE ECOSYSTEM SERVICES Prior to the workshop, various agencies compiled background materials describing their specific research priorities for sustainability and ecosystem services (Appendix C). Although most agencies do not have specific presidential or congressional mandates for sustainability programs, each agency involved in the Forum has developed specific ecosystem management R&D priorities. For example, monitoring and indicators are important R&D foci at the EPA, USGS and USDA (Research, Education, and Economics Directorate). These agencies see a need for a set of indicators that can be applied consistently. There would certainly be advantages in having a manageable set of indicators that each agency could use, along with locally contextualized sets of indicators for specific issues. These same agencies also focus on land use and land management and restoration. Another research focus emphasized in agency research priorities is that of information and decision making. The Forest Service (USFS), EPA, NOAA, and USGS list decision making and policy as key priorities for their R&D strategies related to ecosystem services and sustainability. For example, the USGS “Fisheries: Aquatic and Endangered Resources Program” focuses on the study of aquatic organisms and aquatic habitats. Scientists examine aquatic organisms and their habitats to provide scientific information to natural resource managers and decision makers. NOAA is one agency that is specifically mandated by Congress to be a leader in protecting, managing, and restoring coastal and marine resources. NOAA plays a vital role in U.S. public health and the nation’s economy. A report by the United States’ Commission on Ocean Policy led to the U.S. Ocean Action Plan, and renewed interest in the world’s oceans, their health, and their economic value. On the second day of the Forum, Dan Walker, Senior Policy Analyst at the US Office of Science and Technology Policy, gave a presentation on the Ocean Action Plan. Additionally, NOAA has been moving to an ecosystem approach to management which attempts to achieve a balance among ecological, environmental, and social influences. NOAA’s strategy aims to increase public knowledge of ecosystems and sustainability and actively involve the general public as stewards of coastal and marine ecosystems. The Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR), Ecosystem Services Task Team (ESTT) of the National Science and Technology Council2 (NSTC) is designed to coordinate and collaborate on research and development across federal agencies. During the workshop, Bruce Rodan, Senior Policy Analyst at the US Office of Science and Technology Policy and Iris Goodman, Co-chair of the ESTT, elaborated on the impact that the ESTT could have on 2 The NSTC is led by the President’s Science Advisor and is responsible for coordinating the federal S&T policy making process; ensuring that S&T policy decisions and programs are consistent with the President’s goals, and integrating the President’s S&T agenda across agencies.
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary influencing R&D agendas across agencies. The ESTT acts as a vehicle to bring people together to communicate and coordinate. However, there appears to be an opportunity for the ESTT to be engaged and take full advantage of the programs and new staff at the Forest Service, EPA, USGS and other agencies. STATE OF THE ART EXAMPLES OF FEDERAL SUSTAINABLITY R&D PROGRAMS/PROJECTS The following participants described R&D activities related to ecosystem services and sustainability undertaken by the various federal agencies represented at the Forum: Ned Euliss, US Geological Survey, Integrated Landscape Monitoring: Prairie Pilot Mark Nechodom, US Forest Service/Pacific Southwest Research Station, Alder Springs Fuels Reduction Stewardship Program Iris Goodman, US Environmental Protection Agency, Willamette-Ecosystem Services Project Dan Kugler, US Department of Agriculture, Long Term Agroecosystem Research, Education, and Extension Steve Murawski, National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, Implementing an Ecosystem Approach to NOAA’s Sustainability Mandates Woody Turner, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, SERVIR: A Platform for the Support of Regional Ecosystem Services for Sustainability Margaret Palmer, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences (National Science Foundation program representative), CNH: Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Descriptions of the specific agency projects/programs presented at the Forum are included in Appendix C of this workshop summary and will not be individually summarized here. However, some common research foci arose in multiple presentations, including climate variability, land use, life cycle assessment of multiple resources, ecological modeling, ecosystem management, and holistic, place-based ecosystem analysis. Major R&D efforts related to sustainability and ecosystem services vary in scale and approach. Like biofuels R&D, place-based ecosystem services research is increasingly important. Although research findings may not always be applicable from one place to another, some important trends can be observed. Many federal R&D programs look at “bundles” of ecosystem services using a place-based approach. For example, the U.S. Geological Survey has partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies in the U.S. Department of the
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary Interior to conduct research across the Northern Great Plains region and develop a methodology to quantify the delivery of multiple ecosystem services. The project monitors services such as: floodwater storage, biodiversity, sediments and nutrient loading, and assesses the potential for carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas benefits. Some R&D is focused on the effects of land use changes on various ecosystem services. Understanding how ecosystems services are impacted and being able to adapt management strategies is vital to long term sustainability. A number of programs are examining the potential impact of climate variability—especially droughts—on ecosystem services. Other agencies, such as the USFS, are implementing a systems’ analysis to look at the benefits and the impacts associated with harvesting biofuels and removing wood and excess biomass3 to reduce wildfire intensity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One project, known as the Alder Springs Fuels Reduction Stewardship Program, suggests that it is possible to achieve ecological objectives that is, fuels’ treatments and wildfire emissions or wildfire change, while at the same time provide products such as sawn logs and biomass for energy production. The Alder Springs project uses improved land management techniques to produce biomass for energy production; a project that can offset fossil fuel use. The project also conducts life cycle assessments to examine tradeoffs in habitat, carbon, and watershed values and evaluate the impact of abstracting biofuels from the landscape for the purpose of reducing wildfire impacts. Various federal agencies are developing ecological models to help decision-makers address issues related to sustainability. For example, NASA uses earth observation technologies to forecast environmental disasters in Central America. NASA has chosen to conduct R&D in this region based on its high biological diversity, high cultural diversity, and high degree of climate variability. Jointly developed with CATHALAC, (Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean) an international organization based in the Republic of Panama, the regional monitoring system dubbed SERVIR (a Spanish acronym for Regional Visualization and Monitoring System) provided weather predictions for both hurricanes Dean and Felix in August and September 2007. Overall, SERVIR aims to build capacity within the region. The project uses earth observation technologies and prediction functions, which act as decision support tools for protection against natural disasters. By using these prediction technologies for disasters such as landslides, forest fires, floods, and deforestation, decision makers can decide when/if an evacuation is needed and assess what type of natural disaster may occur in the near future. As part of that initiative, SERVIR manag- 3 Fuel treatment is the process by which wood and excess biomass are removed from a forest to reduce the intensity of wildfires and maintain forest health. Source: The Sun Grant BioWeb, http://bioweb.sungrant.org/Home (Accessed on: 4/2/08).
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary ers educate local weather forecasters about using SERVIR models as forecasting tools. SERVIR also plans to expand into other sectors, specifically agriculture. The EPA has modeled the Willamette River in Oregon to determine how to take advantage of the river’s natural cooling processes to correct the region’s natural thermal discharges, thus improving the viability of the region’s fisheries.4 Using the natural cooling processes is cost-effective, and it enables managers to allocate additional money for the restoration of other ecosystem services. Other federal programs look at the way in which sustainability and economic feasibility are integrally linked. For example, the Research, Education, and Extension Directorate (REE) at the USDA focuses on creating sustainability research programs. Through their proposed long term agro-ecosystem research, education, and extension program, LTAR-EE, the USDA plans to study, design, manage, evaluate and understand hybrid environmental systems with agricultural, natural, and human components. Still other federal programs have focused their research and development efforts on studying particular management approaches. For example, NOAA assesses alternative approaches to ecosystem management by looking at the development of broad, stakeholder-based governance systems, the conservation of essential components of the ecosystem, and the conservation of essential ecosystem processes. More specifically, this requires evaluating feedback effects and carrying capacity, as well as accounting for climate variability and numerous other variables. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the USDA have partnered to form the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Ecosystems (CNH). This program links social scientists and political scientists to examine ecosystem services through a holistic perspective. For example, CNH supports a project, in which researchers, including anthropologists and environmental scientists, at the University of Hawaii, are examining how spiritual beliefs inform farming practices and, in turn, biodiversity in the Amazonian forest in Brazil. This region of Brazil has multiple ethnic groups with varying levels of focus on cosmology. In general, CNH explores interdisciplinary research foci that are central to R&D to enhance sustainability. Many agencies and workshop participants highlighted the promising strategy of assessing and managing ecosystem services at a place-based level. Although place-based R&D is very useful for local ecosystems, many participants acknowledged the need to explore ways to scale up these research efforts. Program managers could apply what is known about local ecosystem services’ management practices to more regional, national, and international levels. Exploring innovative land use management strategies can lead to better use of natural resources and thus more efficient/cost-effective provision of ecosystem services. Climate vari- 4 This project is an academic grant funded by the EPA through the Collaborative Science and Technology Network for Sustainability (CNS) program.
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary ability is an important component of ecosystem services’ R&D and sustainability. Exploring climate variability through ecological modeling can help to conserve some of the earth’s most vital natural resources. ECOSYSTEMS SERVICES AND SUSTAINABILITY R&D: GAPS AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTEGRATION, COORDINATION, PARTNERSHIPS Bill Clark (Harvard University), Ann Bartuska (USFS), and Sara Scherr (EcoAgriculture Partners) led the introductory panel discussion on ecosystem services gaps and opportunities. Based on roundtable discussions and the state-of-the-art examples presented earlier in the workshop, the panelists asked participants to consider the following issues during breakout discussions, detailed in Box 1. Breakout sessions were organized for workshop participants to foster discussion of the issues, and each breakout group presented a summary of the discussion. BOX 1 Set of Common Gaps and Opportiunities for Collaboration in Ecosystem Services R&D Related to Sustainability How can we determine what programs/projects will be helpful in building more complementarities among federal agencies? How can we acquire more user-driven perspectives to complement the researcher-driven perspectives that were evident in each of the state-of-the-art examples presented by the federal agencies? How can we determine the type of indicators that fit into user-driven evaluations? How can we determine what works and what does not? How can we create the institutional capacity to actually get the job done? If fundamental R&D is coupled with practical problem solving in the field, how can we determine the types of institutions needed to facilitate connections? How can we “Scale Up” the place-based research to apply it more broadly? There is a need to learn how to effectively combine an ecosystem services’ perspective with decision making. That decision-making capacity needs to be broadly applicable throughout the nation's ecosystems, land and sea systems, and internationally, in order to move beyond a place-based, one time approach. NOTE: Before breakout discussions, speakers from the panel on Ecosystem Services R&D Gaps, Opportunities for Integration, Coordination, and Partnerships asked workshop participants to consider these five issues.
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary ECOYSTEM SERVICES AND SUSTAINABILITY R&D: SUMMARY OR ROUNDTABLE PANEL DISCUSSIONS The day’s presentations spurred discussion of lessons learned from the past 10 years of ecosystem management studies with increasing attention to expanding management efforts to focus on more inclusive sets of services rather than one or two outputs. The issue of scale of R&D programs continued to come up during workshop discussions. The importance of linking knowledge to action was discussed and was exemplified in various federal examples presented during the workshop, but many participants suggested that there is still work to be done in this area. In particular, regional centers of excellence were highlighted as mechanisms for linking knowledge about ecosystem services research to users and, ultimately, action. Regional centers of excellence could be populated not just by federal agencies, but also by universities and state and local agencies. The centers could address issues and provide tools at the local level dealing with sustainability issues and combine resources to create these programs. Some participants noted that these research strategies are more effective when they are based on user perspectives and needs. Local-user needs must be understood in order to increase user engagement. If much of the R&D is locally contextualized, other agencies can learn from the various mechanisms for regional management already in use within the EPA and the USFS. Each agency seems to have somewhat different models for this strategy, but they have demonstrated the institutional capacity to achieve success through regionally-based programs. This strategy certainly has much promise in achieving larger R&D goals. At the federal level, the Ecosystem Services Task Team (ESTT) could provide a link from regional research to larger R&D goals. The ESTT offers an interagency way to collaborate. Many workshop participants see the ESTT as a mechanism strengthening R&D across agencies. Once revitalized, the ESTT could foster more interagency cooperation and perhaps provide a forum to coordinate experiences and knowledge among federal agencies and other R&D organizations. Many workshop participants discussed the importance of making the concept of ecosystem services “real” through education and communication. Participants also noted the importance of institutions that move science into practice. An appropriate set of ecosystem services’ indicators could effectively take science and make it broadly understandable so that the general public will accept them. For example, indicators for water resources might ask: Is this water potable? Is it swimmable? Is it usable on another level? When the public sees this set of indicators, they would be more likely to understand the impacts of their own actions, and what steps they could take to make their community more sustainable. Development of a common set of indicators/metrics across all federal agencies to
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary use for ecosystem services would be a helpful resource. The indicators, of course, would need to accommodate regional variation. Once the concept of ecosystem services is more broadly understood, it will be important to define the economic value of those services. Decision support tools should be developed specifically for the financial community. By developing indicators, stakeholders may be able to determine how ecosystem services could best be marketed. Additionally, investors should know what the science is, what the decisions are, how the information flows, and what the associated risks and uncertainties are. The valuation of ecosystem services puts a price on natural resource consumption and damage and introduces this concept to a market-driven economy. A number of participants noted that there is a lack of understanding of the social and behavioral issues surrounding ecosystem services R&D. In the Chesapeake Bay, oyster habitats were examined initially in isolation, but now scientists are looking more broadly at biophysical and socio-cultural issues as well. Unlike traditional socio-cultural impact studies, the cultural analysis conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland asked what oysters meant to a wider range of stakeholders: scientists, restaurant owners, the general public, environmentalists, etc. The study hypothesized that oysters are symbolic for many people because they represent the ecology, economy and culture of the Chesapeake Bay. In this case, stakeholders can provide a wealth of knowledge to the discussion on how to restore oyster habitats.5 Engagement of the political science community is also vital to overall R&D strategies because of the importance of the policy context within which decisions are made. Ecosystems services are sometimes cryptic but also very important. Public policy should not ignore the importance of ecosystem services but rather highlight ecosystem services’ examples so that the general public is aware of both their impacts on available services, as well as the tradeoffs of maximizing the value of one ecosystem service over another. For example, biofuels from corn, reduce human dependency on fossil fuels, but have negative impacts on water and soils. Many participants acknowledged that incentives and disincentives for collaboration exist between the federal government, NGOs, universities, and industry. Participants noted that these incentives and disincentives should be clarified and plans for collaboration should be discussed. 5 Oyster Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay, A Cultural & Socioeconomic Assessment, March 2008, Non-Native Oyster EIS Executive Summary
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