Statement of Task

The committee will evaluate methods for assessing services and the associated economic values of aquatic and related terrestrial ecosystems. The committee’s work will focus on identifying and assessing existing economic methods to quantitatively determine the intrinsic value of these ecosystems in support of improved environmental decision-making, including situations where ecosystem services can be only partially valued. The committee will also address several key questions, including:

  • What is the relationship between ecosystem services and the more widely studied ecosystem functions?

  • For a broad array of ecosystem types, what services can be defined, how can they be measured, and is the knowledge of these services sufficient to support an assessment of their value to society?

  • What lessons can be learned from a comparative review of past attempts to value ecosystem services—particularly, are there significant differences between eastern and western U.S. perspectives on these issues?

  • What kinds of research or syntheses would most rapidly advance the ability of natural resource managers and decision makers to recognize, measure, and value ecosystem services?

  • Considering existing limitations, error, and bias in the understanding and measurement of ecosystem values, how can available information best be used to improve the quality of natural resource planning, management, and regulation?

both are given by an economic valuation function. Probably the greatest challenge for successful valuation of ecosystem services is to integrate studies of the ecological production function with studies of the economic valuation function. To do this, the definitions of ecosystem goods and services must match across studies. Failure to do so means that the results of ecological studies cannot be carried over into economic valuation studies. Attempts to value ecosystem services without this key link will either fail to have ecological underpinnings or fail to be relevant as valuation studies.

Where an ecosystem’s services and goods can be identified and measured, it will often be possible to assign values to them by employing existing economic valuation methods. The emerging desire to measure the environmental costs of human activities, or to assess the benefits of environmental protection and restoration, has challenged the state of the art in environmental evaluation in both the ecological and the social sciences. Some ecosystem goods and services cannot be valued because they are not quantifiable or because available methods are not

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