Ecosystem Services: The New Multiple-Use Idea


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.

2 thoughts on “Ecosystem Services: The New Multiple-Use Idea”

  1. How about we get rid of “multiple use” altogether? This is from my NOI comments:

    Such a rule needs to move management past the days and narrow ideas of “multiple use.” Indeed, this new rule should NOT be about “management.” Management is not a goal; it is a set of tools to reach goals. The rule should be about vision, the goals for our forests and grasslands. Management should be guided by the goals, the vision; it should never direct or dictate them.

    Instead of multiple use, we need to focus on MULTIPLE VALUES and explore the big ideas that take a long view on what a forest should be and thus what the management on that forest should be. Instead of the short-term focus of what we use and take from the forest, we must work on the long-term issues of what we value about the forest and what we can invest in the forest in order to increase those values.

    “Multiple use” looks to the narrow, short-term uses of what each person gets from the forest. It is a selfish view that cares mainly about the individual’s gain. “What does the forest give me?” Not that there is anything wrong with such short-term things; they have a legitimate place, whether economic, recreational, spiritual or otherwise. But for management of a long-term national asset, using short-term individual desires alone, or even primarily, as the means of management planning has proven to be a failure.

    Multiple values would look to what each person can do for the forest in the context of the values of others. “What do I give the forest?” “How do my values interact with other people’s values?” “How can we invest and increase all our values for this forest?” Like President Kennedy said in his inaugural speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what can I do for my country.” Similarly, we need to start asking not what the forest can do for me but what can I do for the forest. And more so, what can WE together do for the forest, because the true value of collaborative visioning for a forest is to figure out how all the people involved in a forest can work together for the long-term betterment of the forest and for all who care about it.

    We need to de-emphasize the idea that management’s goal is “products” from the forest. Yes, products will come from good management, but the goal of management MUST be what is best for the land, not the production of products. Management must be that which implements the vision, not that which only produces something someone wants right now.

    “Values,” collaborative decision-making instead of conflict, and “forest restoration businesses” that compliment recreation and other passive businesses instead of conflicting with them are what will get us to where we want to go and where the land needs to be. These lands have incredible values. Focusing on “uses” and “products” has allowed competing interests to create this 40-year trench war we have had over the forests, as each interest gets focused on their own short-term use as what the lands should be about. But multiple values allow us to see the whole of the forest. We can get together in a cooperative, collaborative framework and work on the land’s values and how they should be invested in for the long-term. The RACNAC proved that this approach works. If we can solve the roadless issue in Idaho of all places, we can solve it everywhere, and we can solve the dilemma posed by the planning rule.

    “Use” focuses me on my selfish use and what the forests can do for me alone. “Values” focus me on things beyond my immediate use, including other people’s uses and how they see and value the forests, and how all that should and could fit together. If everyone does that together in open, honest discussion, progress can be made on all issues.

  2. This whole notion of “values” reminds me of favorite lines from a Bob Dylan tune:

    “There must be some kind of way out of here,”
    Said the joker to the thief.
    “There’s too much confusion,
    I can’t get no relief.
    Businessmen, they drink my wine,
    Plowmen dig my earth.
    None of them along the line
    Know what any of it is worth.”

    I did a three-part series on economics for Eco-Watch way back in Jan, Feb 1995. But no one was (or is) listening. It was all about practicing economics that made a modicum of sense — practicing economics in context. You can find the three-part series here.

    Later I did a little more on my Ecological Economics blog (now titled Ecology and Economics) here.

    Bottom line: “Run the money-changers economists from the Earth temple” and begin to practice adaptive co-management.


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