ecosystem services

Mapping Ecosystem Markets in EnviroAtlas: Providing Innovative Data and Tools to Inform Decision-Making

Tidal marsh wetlands Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

Ecosystem markets provide an innovative way to safeguard the goods and services we get from wetlands and other ecosystems.

Do you ever wonder how much clean water is worth? Or how much you would be willing to pay somebody not to pollute your favorite lake? Maybe you don’t think about these things, but businesses are emerging who do and that is exactly what ecosystem markets are all about. Ecosystem markets provide an innovative way to safeguard the goods and services we get from ecosystems. Through markets, interested parties can pay for landowners or managers to protect or restore ecosystems. For example, a sewage treatment plant might pay a third-party broker for nearby landowners to plant filter strips along waterbodies to reduce pollution or improve fish habitat. We are proud to announce that ecosystem markets maps are the latest addition to our EnviroAtlas web tool, thanks to a partnership between EPA, USDA’s Office of Environmental Markets, and Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace.

Ecosystem markets are appealing because they:

  • protect the environment and provide a public good;
  • offer additional revenue to America’s farmers and ranchers, and help protect agricultural
    land from conversion;
  • increase the flexibility of conservation or restoration efforts by reducing/redistributing costs;
  • increase opportunities for investment;
  • can be used to meet regulatory compliance or promote voluntary conservation; and
  • accelerate conservation activities.
Map showing ecosystem markets across teh U.S.

Adding ecosystem markets to EnviroAtlas helps fills a crucial information gap.

The most well-established markets in the United States are for wetland and stream conservation, water quality, forest carbon sequestration, and imperiled species and habitats conservation. These markets have grown in number and importance over the past few decades, but until now there hasn’t been one place where people could access all available data on where markets have been implemented. By integrating these data into EnviroAtlas, markets can be viewed in the context of other EnviroAtlas maps. People can easily see where markets have been implemented, learn more about those markets, and hopefully identify where to develop additional markets.

EnviroAtlas started with a simple idea: to provide a web tool that gives anyone with internet access the opportunity to explore a wealth of maps about the places where we live, work, and play. Adding ecosystem markets to EnviroAtlas helps fills a crucial information gap. Our next step is to work with our partners at USDA and Forest Trends to publish examples of how markets data can be used in different decision contexts.

Check out the ecosystem markets data and 300+ other maps in our interactive mapping application.

About the Author: Anne Neale has been a research scientist in EPA’s Office of Research and Development since 1991. She has led the development of EnviroAtlas since shortly after its inception in 2007. She firmly believes that providing data to the public is important – data feeds information, information feeds knowledge, and knowledge feeds smart decisions!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Crabbing for Jimmies in the South River: What’s It Worth?

By Dr. Wayne Cascio

If you grew up in Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay like I did, you’d know what Jimmies are.  For those of you that don’t—Jimmies are male blue crabs.  Catching these well-known residents of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries is a favorite recreational activity for many people and an important commercial industry for communities along the Bay.  In fact, crabbing is deeply rooted in the history, culture, and culinary experience of the Bay.

Wayne and John stand on a boat ready to go crabbing

Crabbing with my brother-in-law (left) along the South River just south of Annapolis.

But what does crabbing have to do with science?  We’ll get to that, but first I’ll share my recent experience of crabbing with my brother-in-law, John Navarro, along the South River just south of Annapolis.  We set out in the early morning and watched the river come to life.  Osprey and geese were plentiful and a few crows, ducks, and gulls were working the waterway just as we sought to do.  In shallow water near the shore we set out two baited trot lines, each about 500 feet long.  Two large red buoys anchored at the ends of the lines bobbed with the passing wake of boats.  As we slowly trolled, the line rose slowly to the surface passing over a hook hanging from the side of the boat.  Imagine the anticipation as a blue crab holding onto the bait rose from the depths and suddenly appeared.  With a quick move of the net the crab was scooped into a basket on the boat.  One’s attention had to immediately return to the rising line or you could miss the next one.  Captain John didn’t take kindly to missing a “legal” Jimmie.  We caught scores of crabs but kept three-dozen large Jimmies.  Later that evening we steamed the crabs the way we do in Maryland and enjoyed them with family, friends, and pre-season football.

crabs in a basketThe availability of blue crabs in the Bay and its tributaries is a natural resource that depends on the health of the Bay.  In fact we can view the bounty of this harvest of blue crabs as a prime example of an “ecosystem service” the Bay provides to people and the myriad of other forms of life that depend on the well-being of the blue crab population.  The enjoyment of recreational crabbing, its social benefits, and the jobs provided by the crabbing industry have value and can be described as goods and services provided by the Bay’s ecosystem.

In 2014 the dockside value of blue crabs in Maryland was $54 million. Ascribing value to ecosystem services is one way to help communities understand trade-offs when making decisions that have the potential to affect the Bay’s ecosystem so that important resources such as our crab fisheries are protected.

EPA researchers are working to quantify ecosystem services and illuminate the ways they contribute to our own well-being. Included are studies that specifically contribute to a better understanding of the contribution of the Bay’s ecosystem to our society and to all living organisms. For example, we are studying the factors that lead to excess nutrients in the water that creates a so-called, “dead zone” (i.e., zone of hypoxia) caused by low dissolved oxygen that depletes the marine species such as the blue crab.

So, what’s a morning of recreational crabbing on the South River worth?  At a personal level it remains the great feeling I get experiencing nature’s beauty and feasting on the Bay’s bounty with family.  Yet, through my work with the EPA I have a much greater appreciation of the value of the quality of the environment and what it provides for us.  Placing an economic value on the goods and services that nature provides is one way to conceptualize the tangible value that flow from ecosystems directly to people. So, what are these ecosystem services worth to you?  That’s up to you and your community.

 

References:

Restoration of the Chesapeake Bay: https://www.epa.gov/restoration-chesapeake-bay

Chesapeake Bay Program: http://www.chesapeakebay.net/blog/post/nearly_11_million_in_grant_funds_will_support_restoration_projects_across_c

Munns WR Jr, Rea AW. Ecosystem services: value is in the eye of the beholder.  Integr Environ Assess Manag. 2015 Apr;11(2):332-3. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25820311)

Lowering Barriers to Achieving Multiple Environmental Goals in the Chesapeake Bay

An Optimization Approach to Evaluate the Role of Ecosystem Services in Chesapeake Bay Restoration Strategies

 

About the Author: Wayne Cascio is a physician/scientist who spent more than 30 years as a cardiologist before joining EPA’s Office of Research and Development where he now leads research on the links between environmental quality and population health.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap graphic identifier

Need an excuse to hang out inside? Here’s something to read while you stay out of the heat. Check out the latest in EPA science.

Foxes and Ecosystem Services at Western Ecology Division
Late this spring, a self-operated wildlife camera captured several photos of adult gray foxes carrying food items from surrounding wild lands onto the grounds of EPA’s Western Ecology Division Laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon. Find out what they were up to in the blog Foxes and Ecosystem Services at Western Ecology Division.

Investing in our Children’s Futures
To protect children from environmental threats and help them live healthier lives, EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences created the Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers (Children’s Centers). Read about the five new Children’s Center grants in the blog Investing in our Children’s Futures.

The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program
As cyanobacteria bloom incidence continues to increase, EPA strives to create and improve methods for bloom prediction, monitoring, and management. The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program will help generate region-wide data on bloom frequencies, cyanobacteria concentrations, and spatial distribution through three coordinated projects. To learn more about the program read the blog The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program: One Program, Three Opportunities for You To Get Involved!

If you do decide to head outside, don’t forget the sunscreen! Here’s a little lesson in sunscreen chemistry.

Suncreen and Sun Safety: Just One Piece of the Story
It’s not surprising that sunscreens are detected in pool water (after all, some is bound to wash off when we take a dip), but certain sunscreens have also been widely detected in our ecosystems and in our wastewater. So how is our sunscreen ending up in our environment and what are the impacts? Find out in the blog Suncreen and Sun Safety: Just One Piece of the Story.

And coming up next week:

Let’s Talk About Wildfire Smoke and Health
Monday, August 22nd at 1:30 p.m. EDT
There are over 20 wildfires currently burning in the United States. Join us for a twitter chat with EPA research cardiologist Dr. Wayne Cascio and health effects scientist Susan Stone, along with experts from the U.S. Forest Service and the Centers for Disease Control, to discuss wildfire smoke and health.

To join the twitter chat and ask questions, please use ‪#‎WildfireSmoke and follow @EPAAir. Get more details in the blog Let’s Talk About Wildfire Smoke and Health.

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She is a regular contributor to It All Starts with Science and the founding writer of “The Research Recap.”

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Foxes and Ecosystem Services at Western Ecology Division

By Randy Comeleo

Late this spring, a self-operated wildlife camera captured several photos of adult gray foxes carrying food items from surrounding wild lands onto the grounds of EPA’s Western Ecology Division (WED) Laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon.

A self-operated wildlife camera captures a recent photo of an adult gray fox returning to EPA Western Ecology Division with a camas pocket gopher.

A self-operated wildlife camera captures a recent photo of an adult gray fox returning to EPA Western Ecology Division with a camas pocket gopher.

Within a few weeks, photos from the camera revealed why the adults were carrying, and not consuming, their prey.  The pair had denned in a quiet corner of our campus and were delivering food to six pups!

A self-operated wildlife camera captures a photo of nursing gray fox pups at the EPA Western Ecology Division.

A self-operated wildlife camera captures a photo of nursing gray fox pups at the EPA Western Ecology Division.

The gray fox is a mesocarnivore – a mid-sized carnivore in which 50-70% of the diet is the flesh of another animal.  Mesocarnivores are often more numerous when residing in close proximity to humans where their foraging activities can provide an important ecosystem service: keeping the level of property damage by rodents to an acceptable level.

We have been thrilled to observe these usually secretive small canids carrying food for their pups, basking in the sun, and even climbing trees!  Gray foxes have adaptations such as short, powerful legs and strong hooked claws which enable them to climb trees and avoid larger predators like coyotes.

Four gray fox pups enjoy the early morning sun at the EPA Western Ecology Division (photo by Bonnie Smith).

Four gray fox pups enjoy the early morning sun at the EPA Western Ecology Division (photo by Bonnie Smith).

The pups are now learning to hunt with their parents and will forage on their own in several weeks.  The family will likely remain together until autumn, when the youngsters reach sexual maturity and head-out on their own.

About the Author: Randy Comeleo is an Ecologist for EPA’s Western Ecology Division research lab. He works primarily with the Air, Climate, and Energy research program as a Geographic Information System Analyst.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Upcoming Webinar to Highlight Research Funding Opportunity: Integrating Human Health and Well-Being with Ecosystem Services

Upcoming Webinar: March 22, 2:00 pm (EDT)

Family enjoying a hike in the woods.Many people have an intuitive understanding of how nature and ecosystems enrich our lives. That’s why so many of us spend our weekends enjoying nearby parks or devote precious family vacation time traveling to National Parks and Wildlife Refuges. But how do we identify and measure the critical ways in which natural ecosystems benefit human well-being in other, perhaps more practical ways through “ecosystems services” such as protecting public health, preventing floods, mitigating pollution exposures, and contributing to more resilient and prosperous communities?

Answering those questions is a major priority of EPA research, and the driving force behind a new research grant opportunity (“Request for Applications,” or RFA) entitled: Integrating Human Health and Well-Being with Ecosystems Services Request for Applications.

The RFA seeks applications for collaborative, community-based research that will foster the better understanding of how ecosystems support human health and well-being. Specifically, research teams will examine how communities can better integrate human health and well-being with ecosystem services. The Agency seeks to support research that will advance the science behind evaluating, quantifying, and incorporating cumulative impacts into decision-making.

On March 22nd at 2:00 pm (EDT) EPA will hold an informational webinar to share the research elements and review criteria for the RFA, and provide potential applicants with the opportunity to ask questions. Space is limited, and you must register in advance if you would like to attend the webinar.

Register now!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Survive, Adapt, and Grow: EPA, Rockefeller Foundation Team Up for Resilient Cities

By Lek Kadeli

“City Resilience: The capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a system to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.”

Rainbow over a cityscape

EPA is a platform partner for 100 Resilient Cities.

EPA recently announced a partnership to help communities across the United States and around the world achieve that very definition of city resilience by supporting 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. Agency sustainability scientists and other experts will help urban communities take actions today to realize vibrant and healthy futures.

100 Resilient Cities was launched in 2013 to provide urban communities with access to a network of expertise, innovative tools, and models that will help them meet and bounce back even better from serious challenges—from chronic stresses such as air pollution and diminishing access to clean water, to more sudden events including floods, “superstorms” and other weather events, and acts of terrorism.

To support the partnership, EPA researchers will work directly with urban communities to share a variety of innovative tools and initiatives they have developed to meet just such challenges. For example:

  • The National Stormwater Calculator, an easy-to-use, online tool will help communities effectively tap innovative green infrastructure techniques to reduce nutrient pollution and the risk of local flooding, while also planning for the increase of stormwater runoff that is expected due to climate change.
  • EnviroAtlas, is a multi-scale, geographical-based online mapping, visualization, and analysis tool that integrates more than 300 separate data layers on various aspects of how natural ecosystems benefit people. The tool provides communities with a resource for developing science-based, strategic plans that sustain the ability of “ecosystem services” to absorb and mitigate stresses—a critical aspect of resiliency.
  • The Triple Value Systems tool provides an interactive model built on the dynamic relationship among economic, societal, and environmental impacts. Simulations illustrate the tradeoff and benefits of different decisions, supporting consensus building in pursuit of sustainable, resilient communities.
  • Incorporating a new generation of low cost, portable, and low maintenance air quality sensors into community-based air quality monitoring and awareness resources, such as “The Village Green Project,” will help individuals take action to protect their health, and community leaders to reduce the impacts of poor local air quality.
  • CANARY Event Detection Software, developed by EPA researchers in partnership with colleagues from Sandia National Laboratories, is an early warning system for detecting contaminants in drinking water. Recognized as a top 100 new technology by R&D Magazine, it helps water utilities continually monitor for threats and take early action to minimize disruptions.
EPA's Village Green Project, a solar-topped bench with air sensors

The Village Green project

EPA’s leadership advancing the science of sustainability and resiliency makes us a natural fit for supporting 100 Resilient Cities. Joining the network of other “platform partners” will help us share our research results and best practices and expand the impact of what our partners and we learn. We are thrilled to be part of this important effort advancing more sustainable and resilient communities, and look forward to a future where cities across the globe survive, adapt, and grow—no matter what.

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Along the Road to Sustainability

By Bob Perciasepe

Technology and open access to data and tools have ended the excruciating choice that generations of unsure car travelers have sometimes faced: forge ahead just a few more miles, or stop and ask for directions? Such stress has largely faded with the advent of dashboard-mounted, satellite-enabled navigation systems and readily available smartphone applications.

Getting to your desired destination is always easier when you have the right information at your disposal. That’s why today I’m excited to announce that EPA has released a tool to help environmental decision makers and local communities navigate toward a more sustainable future: EnviroAtlas.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Willingness to Pay for Green Space

By Marguerite Huber

Bike trail through residential green space

How much are you willing to pay for the benefits of low impact development?

Have you ever taken an economics course? If so, you probably studied the concept of “willingness to pay,” or WTP. A person’s willingness to pay for something is the dollar value they have attached to it. For most of us, it’s easy to decide how much we are willing to pay for a car or new home. But what about environmental benefits? EPA researchers are exploring that exact question for green spaces and land development options.

Low impact development (LID) and green infrastructure practices reduce the amount of stormwater running off a particular site. So in places where stormwater runoff has become a significant source of water pollution, the use of these practices has become more necessary. Low impact development benefits and characteristics can include:

  • improvement in air quality
  • increased natural areas and  wildlife habitat
  • improved water quality
  • aesthetic benefits
  • minimized parking lots and other impervious surfaces
  • increased access to transit, shared parking, and bicycle facilities

EPA researchers have identified an additional benefit of such practices: increased property values. They and Abt Associates contractors found that property values increase for both new developments and existing properties when located near green spaces associated with low impact development.

The researchers analyzed 35 studies and focused on predicting how much people were willing to pay for small changes in open space. The investigation evaluated the differences in value between open spaces with and without recreational uses.

Results showed that the design and characteristics of a low impact development affects the level of benefits property owners could expect, and that effects on property values declined the farther they are from open spaces. For example, consider a plan that includes a 10% increase in park space or other green space. Property values are projected to increase by 1.23% to 1.95% when located within 250 meters of such a green space, but by 0.56% to 1.2% when located 250-500 meters away. For a homeowner, that could mean a lot of money.

Overall, researchers found that the proximity to and the percent change in open space determined a household’s willingness to pay for low impact open spaces, but it may be site-specific for type of vegetation and recreational use.

Additionally, many states are encouraging developers to use these practices through regulations, incentives, and educational campaigns, so knowing which low impact characteristics maximize the benefits can be useful for policymakers and developers.

You don’t need to have taken an economics course to understand the concept of willingness to pay. It can be applied to the value you place on increased green space and improved water quality. So just how much are you willing to pay for the benefits of low impact development?

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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A New Beginning: Headwater Research

By Marguerite Huber

I like beginnings. They are a fresh start and influence our lives further down the road. Just like how we have new beginnings, all rivers have influential beginnings too. In a network of rivers up in the mountains, headwater streams are the uppermost streams furthest from the river’s endpoint or merger with another stream. They are the very beginning of miles and miles of rivers and have a great impact on what flows downstream.headwaterstream

Headwater streams and their catchments, or drainage basins, are necessary for the maintenance of healthy and productive streams and rivers. Headwater catchments also provide numerous ecosystem services to humans and the surrounding environment. These benefits include biodiversity, climate regulation, recreation, timber and crop production, and water supply and purification.

EPA researchers studied the importance of headwater catchments by focusing on the quantity and value of a few ecosystem services, and then projected that importance from a regional to national scale. They focused on three ecosystem services (water supply, climate regulation, and water purification) for 568 headwater streams and their catchments.

To assess the potential economic value of headwater catchments’ ecosystem services, researchers used published economic value estimates based on commodity price (water supply), market value (climate regulation), and damage cost avoidance (water purification).

They found the economic value of each ecosystem service as follows:

  • $470,000 – The average yearly value of water supplied through each headwater catchment.
  • $553, 000 – The average yearly value of climate regulation (through carbon sequestration) of each headwater catchment.
  • $29,759,000 – The average yearly value of improving water quality by reducing nutrient pollution.

Overall, the weighted average economic value for headwater catchments in the United States was $31 million per year per catchment. It is essential to note that the national importance of headwater catchments is even higher since the 568 catchments studied are only a statistical representation of the more than 2 million headwater catchments in the continental United States. I think it’s safe to say these beginnings provide some serious benefits!

About the authorMarguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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