Under the OPA, the federal government is required to seek reparation for damages to natural resources due to oil spills. The NRDA process is the primary tool by which the government assesses the damage to natural resources, and within that process, has been the application of equivalency methods, HEA and REA. Unfortunately, this process relies on an assessment that does not necessarily address the reality that an ecosystem is a dynamic and interactive complex of species and their physical environment (Kornfield, 2011). Furthermore, the existing NRDA process may not adequately integrate the additional complexity of space and time into the assessment, which is a particular challenge when assessing the impacts of an event with the scope and duration of the DWH spill. The underlying question that the NRDA practitioners would like to address is “how did the quantity and value of ecosystem services change due to the DWH oil spill?” The ecosystem services approach can be useful in answering this question. An ecosystem services approach may provide a useful addition to the ongoing NRDA process as it avoids the “restoration bottleneck” by expanding the array of projects suitable for funding. This approach brings the “value” into human benefits rather than solely addressing habitat for habitat’s sake.

Finding 2.7: Habitat and resource equivalency approaches may not capture the whole value provided by large ecosystems such as the Gulf of Mexico because of the complex long-term interactions among ecosystem components.

A more detailed discussion of this approach and specific recommendations for its implementation with respect to a few key ecosystem services are found in Chapter 4.

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