The full suite of environmental benefits accruing to or affected by federal land management activities typically is not accounted for in decision-making processes, leading to uncertainty in planning and unnecessary costs to the agencies and society at large. Federal agencies are increasingly interested in adopting an ecosystem service approach to address some of their unique resource management challenges. A clear understanding of ecosystem service values and their interconnections would help them balance mandated mission activities with environmental stewardship requirements, sustain multiple uses of lands, evaluate environmental impacts for proposed actions or policies in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, resolve land use conflicts within and among agencies, and communicate management objectives with Congress and the public. However, evaluating ecosystem services at scales and in currencies that are relevant to everyday decision-making processes is an important gap in natural resource management, and few tools exist that can be applied in a systematic, consistent manner across sites at the spatial scales and time frames relevant to major decisions.

This project demonstrated an integrated ecosystem service methodology for incorporating the provision and value of ecosystem services and biodiversity into management decisions of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) installations. The approach uses a novel, open-source software package to estimate the relative benefits of alternative land uses, military activities, and protection or restoration of habitats for species at risk on installations. Additionally, this project provided the DoD with support to enable technology integration into overall installation management.

Technology Description

The ecosystem services approach developed by The Natural Capital Project (NatCap) provides estimates of the values of natural capital in clear, credible, and practical ways through iterative stakeholder engagement, scenario planning, biophysical and economic/social modeling with Integrated Valuation of Environmental Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST), and multi-service synthesis of outputs. InVEST is a free and open-source software tool that can be used with a number of GIS software packages to integrate ecosystem service values into decision-making. InVEST is best used as part of a decision process, and entails linking credible models based on ecological production functions and diverse valuation methods. InVEST has been developed since 2006 by NatCap (naturalcapitalproject.org). This tool has been applied and tested in more than 20 demonstrations around the world with a rapidly growing user base.

Demonstration Results

The project team demonstrated the ecosystem services approach and InVEST tools at three DoD installations: Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), Washington; Fort Pickett, Virginia; and Fort Benning, Georgia. A majority of the quantitative and qualitative performance objectives were successfully attained across the three sites. The objectives included developing management scenarios jointly with installation personnel; applying InVEST and ancillary models to quantify, value, and map ecosystem services; examining the tradeoffs and synergies among multiple services based on absolute and relative estimates; conducting uncertainty analysis and model validation; identifying decision-informing opportunities; and evaluating ease of use and user acceptance of results.

For the JBLM case, tradeoffs and synergies were examined among five ecosystem services (prairie habitat provision, infantry and vehicle training capacities, timber production, and carbon sequestration) under a business-as-usual scenario and four alternative scenarios of varied training intensities and budgets for resource management. For the Fort Pickett case, the ecological suitability of alternative siting choices was evaluated for a hypothetical training range as an abbreviated demonstration of the ecosystem service approach. Nine reasonable siting locations were identified and the ecosystem impacts of creating a new firing range at each location were assessed—quantifying effects on carbon storage, biodiversity, and sediment export. Recommendations of suitable siting choices were provided based on the aggregated ecosystem impacts. For the Fort Benning case, the ecosystem services approach was applied to the installation and adjacent lands purchased, or soon to be acquired, as part of the Army Compatible Use Buffer program (ACUB). The tradeoffs and synergies were examined among three ecosystem services—provision of low-risk habitat for the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW), sediment retention, and carbon sequestration—under two 20-year scenarios that differ in the spatial distribution of mechanized training activities, and a 100-year ecological forestry scenario featuring adaptive longleaf pine restoration.

Six performance objectives were evaluated for the approach with a post-demonstration survey of installation personnel. The response scores ranged from 3.9 to 4.6 on a 5-point Likert scale, indicating general acceptance of the ecosystem service approach and assessment results. The qualitative analysis suggests the tested approach and tools are especially helpful in: (1) offering a mechanism for incorporating ecosystem services into existing spatial planning and resource management processes; (2) providing spatially explicit, quantitative estimates to inform environmental impact assessments; and (3) demonstrating a flexible, modular structure to aggregate various types of information (e.g., training activities, cultural resources) and tools to support a more comprehensive assessment of changes in biodiversity and multiple ecosystem services. Due to lack of technical capacity and additional software certification requirements, installation staff at the three demonstration sites were unable to use InVEST independently, but they provided positive feedback on the value of the analytical approach and the scenario generation process.

Implementation Issues

Five key lessons were learned throughout the demonstration: (1) an iterative and interactive approach is needed to define when and what kind of ecosystem service information is critical to create useful, credible science and change in a decision process and outcomes; (2) as for any modeling tool, it is important to understand appropriate uses of InVEST results; (3) value of ecosystems should be conveyed in metrics related to the organization’s decision context; (4) successful adaptation of InVEST requires technical capacity; and (5) policy incentives and centralized data support may facilitate adoption of InVEST and the ecosystem service approach. Pre- and post-processing capabilities and an online training curriculum were developed to further facilitate adoption of the ecosystem service approach and InVEST tools.