The Ecosystem Services Primer: A Primer for Problem-solving Using Ecosystem Services
(Incorporating ecosystem services into infrastructure and policy decisions in the Greater Houston Region)
By Deborah January-Bevers, Lindsey Roche, and Lauren Harper
Natural landscapes and organisms serve our wellbeing in a great variety of ways: water purification, flood protection, aquifer recharge, protection from damage by storms and hurricanes, pollution reduction, carbon capture, recreation and wildlife enhancement. The Gulf-Houston Region encompasses 10 ecoregions, 22 watersheds and three major rivers as an assemblage of forests, coastal prairies and wetlands with ecosystem services (ES) supporting human and wildlife wellbeing. This presentation nature-based infrastructure solutions with corresponding ES valuations along waterways and estuaries in the 8-county Gulf-Houston Region.
Identifying and understanding the services provided by local ecosystems can lead to cost-effective solutions to infrastructural and environmental problems while also creating enhanced wildlife habitat in urban/suburban areas. For the storm-prone 8-County Galveston Bay-Houston region, which encompasses 10 distinct ecoregions, there is a critical need to better connect the ecosystem services contained in the diverse assemblages of forests, prairies, bottomlands, wetlands, multiple riparian waterways and shorelines to maximize the economic and social benefits to humans and wildlife which rely heavily on those services. These diverse ecosystems provide habitat to many key species including thousands of migratory birds and butterflies, native alligators, bats, deer, armadillos, and five endangered species.
The Houston Wilderness Ecosystem Services Primer and corresponding presentation which discusses ways for determining ecosystem service land-use analysis/values using 6 different study/valuation methods depending on the goals and/or impacts of a decision-maker. Local and regional Gulf of Mexico area case examples are discussed, where Ecosystem Services valuation options between gray and nature-based infrastructure were analyzed and the natural solutions were chosen and implemented. Three of these case examples involve nature-based infrastructure solutions along waterways and estuaries in the Greater Houston Region – (1) corporate use of tertiary treatment wetlands, (2) increased use of native filtering features in major waterways, (3) levee-based wetlands implemented for hurricane and erosion protection and (4) large-landscape prairie lands for water absorption and flood prevention.
Each of these examples of nature-based infrastructure creation and enhancement also provide additional habitat for the native and migratory wildlife. In an expanding urban core such as the 8-County Gulf-Houston Region. There is a critical need to: (1) Engage in more region-based studies on ecosystem services to better understand the value of natural benefits and the cost-effective infrastructure policies; (2) Compare the economic value of ecosystem services to other alternative approaches when making public policy decisions regarding land-use and infrastructure; and (3) More fully incorporate ecosystem services into infrastructure decisions. The presentation will also briefly discuss the eight-county Gulf-Houston Regional Conservation Plan and its 3 Key Goals to improve ecological and economic resiliency in the 8-County Region (See www.GulfHoustonRCP.org).
Ecosystem Services Value Chart
Houston Wilderness compiled information from studies on ecosystem services pertaining to the forests, wetlands, and prairies in our region and elsewhere. Houston Wilderness' Ecosystem Services Reference Chart contains information on both the values and benefits provided by different ecosystem services. Hover over a cell on the Reference Chart to bring up an annotation detailing the reference for the value, the location of the study, and the value type. Cells highlighted in yellow come from the Houston Region. The Ecosystem Services Reference Sheet contains the same information as the Chart in document form.
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