So what’s the value of a forest?
In a previous post, I described the shift away from the Forest Service’s multiple-use mission to a sustainable ecosystem mission. Many public stakeholders are confused by this shift, including those that rely on forest uses and services. The same is true for Forest Service employees trained in multiple-use management. Often, it’s about having a voice, or being able to clearly articulate these viewpoints, as the dialogue shifts toward concepts such as resilience, ecosystem integrity, ecological function, restoration of degraded ecosystems, etc. As an example of this new framework, see the interim directive FSM 2020-2008-1, intended as a “foundational policy” for all restoration activities.
In the shorthand about sustainability, we sometimes forget the reason we want to achieve sustainable management. In Forest Plans, we talk about desired conditions, but we don’t describe why they are desired.
The interim FSM 2020 explains the reason for ecological restoration and maintenance of resilience: “to provide a broad range of ecosystem services.”
It really isn’t much of a leap at all to move from the idea of multiple-uses to the idea of multiple-services. The 1960 Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act itself explains that multiple use results in both products and services. The idea of ecosystem services draws on these concepts, and extends the idea by attempting to categorize all of the benefits. In particular, one framework getting attention was developed for the worldwide U.N. Millenium Ecosystem Assessment. It divides services into four categories:
1. The provisioning “uses”, including those mentioned in the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act: timber and grazing.
2 The cultural services, including recreation. It would also include things like historical and heritage appreciation, and the experiences people have in the forest that create feelings of solitude or aesthetic appreciation. The diversity of wildlife could fall into this category also.
3. The regulating services, including streamflow or flood control, alteration of fire, and influence on climate. The role of wildlife species in ecological processes is also important.
4. The supporting services for the other three categories, like soil formation and retention, or production of atmospheric oxygen.
Based on the Farm Bill, the Department of Agriculture has established an office for ecosystem services, now called the Office of Environmental Markets, to explore the development of markets. For Forest Service planners who suffered through the economic requirements of the 1982 planning rule, this is a bit scary. The same type of linear programming models used in forest planning to maximize sustained yield of timber are now being used to maximize carbon storage. Economists are working on ways to value services. We should encourage qualitative descriptions of services. The director of the office, Sally Collins, advised a slow-cautious approach to these issues in a 2007 speech:
Resist the impulse to jump on the ecosystem services bandwagon in response to the Forestry Blues—but also resist the impulse to dismiss it as the latest in a series of attempts to redefine forestry. It is what it is, and forestry in America and the world is what it is.
The idea of ecosystem services was introduced in the December 18 Federal Register notice for a new planning rule. This may be a chance for the Forest Service to embrace its multiple-use roots while articulating the importance of intact, functioning ecosystems.