Ecosystem Services and River Basin Management

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Abstract

Ecosystem services are the goods and services provided by ecosystems that maintain and improve human well-being. This framework is inherently anthropocentric, organizing ecological processes by their effects on human beneficiaries and explicitly connecting ecosystem processes to human welfare. The ecosystem services approach facilitates management of a complex system by incorporating important aspects of risk-informed management. Ecosystem services provide a framework for assessing the many stressors to and outputs of a river basin by organizing stakeholders, identifying those whose actions affect the provision of ecosystem services and those whose well-being will be impacted by changes in the provision of ecosystem services, and by delineating the mechanisms by which land-use changes affect stakeholders. The framework is best used to assess changes in ecosystem service delivery and can be useful for considering the trade-offs among services provided by a variety of plausible future land-use scenarios. Within the ecosystem services framework, stakeholder beneficiaries identify the ecosystem services they find valuable. Ecosystem service valuation is not necessarily monetary valuation, but using money as a common currency for comparison can aid decision-making. Economic valuation approaches have a number of problems and pitfalls, but when thoughtfully applied, they allow the possibility of payments for ecosystem services, which can be a useful tool when command-and-control regulation does not work or is politically infeasible. Overall, ecosystem services are a useful tool for river basin managers because they provide a coherent context to incorporate stakeholders and complex biophysical processes into a consistent, learning-based management scheme.