By Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM
In 2014, the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) published a report titled “Ecosystem Service Valuation for Wetland Restoration: What It Is, How To Do It and Best Practice Recommendations” which endorses the valuation of ecosystem services as an advantageous method for the promotion of wetland restoration. The report provided an introductory peek into the world of environmental economics and the various methods available to elicit qualitative and quantitative values for the many benefits provided by wetlands such as habitat, floodwater attenuation, storm surge protection, stormwater filtration and recreation, among many others. The findings from the report were shared through presentations offered at ASWM’s Annual Meeting and the Conference on Ecological and Ecosystem Restoration in 2014, as well as at the Society of Wetland Scientists Annual Meeting in 2015. A swath of valuation tools were identified in the report, but the report did not include an in-depth analysis of the various tools and their usability for state wetland programs. Some of the attendees at the presentations commented that an overview of the usability of the various valuation tools and methods available would be useful.
So in 2015, the Association hired an intern, Mark Healy, from Southern Illinois University, who with the guidance of his academic advisor, Dr. Silvia Secchi, conducted an extensive review of existing decision support tools and selected six tools that maintain “off-the-shelf” capability for wetland program managers. Over an eight month period, ASWM held regular check-in calls with Mark and Silvia to discuss parameters and provide focus for the report. Advice and assistance was provided by partners at the U.S. EPA Atlantic Ecology Division and the U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development, as well as the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, and Industrial Economics. The final report, titled “A Comparative Analysis of Ecosystem Service Valuation Decision Support Tools for Wetland Restoration” was completed at the end of February, 2016.
The six tools chosen for review include InVEST, TESSA, Co$ting Nature, Wildlife Habitat Benefits Estimation Toolkit, ARIES and SolVES. The first section of the report defines and introduces twelve criteria for comparison and differentiation between the six selected decision support tools. The twelve assessment criteria for choosing the selected tools include: accessibility, interface, analysis scale, analysis type, data input demand, valuation units, cartographic output, tool requirements, time requirements, skill requirements, user support and cost. Each tool is evaluated side by side in a comparative matrix. Three ecosystem service categories were used (biogeochemical, hydrological and ecological) to provide a conceptual framework that aligns with wetland restoration defined as “the manipulation of the physical, chemical, or biological characteristics of a site with the goal of returning natural/historic functions to a former or degraded wetland” (U.S. EPA 2012).
In section two of the report, each tool is expanded on in individual one page profiles that include a brief description, target users, ecosystem service models, background/methodology, development outlook, general information as well as references and additional resources. The third section of the report compares each tool side by side in another comparative matrix that evaluates them according to their handling of ecosystem services, including climate regulation, water purification, sediment retention, inland flood regulation, coastal protection, habitat, aesthetic value and recreation value. A thorough discussion of each tool’s performance in addressing these ecosystem services is provided in the pages following the matrix.
The Association is extremely pleased with the excellent research performed by Mark and is very grateful for all the guidance of his advisor, Dr. Secchi. I’ve had the honor of mentoring several other interns and volunteers in my professional life, but have never done so remotely before. So I was very pleased when Mark’s abstract was accepted for the Society of Wetland Scientists Annual Meeting in Corpus Christie, TX this spring where I had the pleasure of finally meeting him in person. It’s wonderful to see such a young, intelligent and hard-working individual in the wetlands community. The report is available for free download on ASWM’s website. So for Peat’s Sake, check it out – it’s a must read by anyone interested in performing an ecosystem service valuation for their wetland restoration project.