A Community on Ecosystem Services

These days ecosystem services are cropping up everywhere, but some of the world’s leading professionals, researchers, and policy-makers were on hand in Washington D.C. for the ACES conference, which took place from Dec 4-6.

Before a few weeks ago I doubt many people had heard of Crystal City, but as the selected site to host 1/2 of the new Amazon headquarters there was a buzz about how much the area will be transformed, which coincidentally made a nice segue into the opportunities and challenges faced by the ecosystem services movement. Mark Gough, Executive Director of the Natural Capital Coalition spoke of “gourmet carbon” and a more pleasant way to describe nature-based solutions. For those of us who work in restoration, especially implementing local scale products - all of our restoration is “farm to table”.

With three days stacked with presentation on everything from policy and governance, to gender, cultural ecosystem services, and translations of ecosystem service concepts tonatural and business case studies of how ecosystem services are put into practice there was much to learn.

Over and over again, the concept of ecosystem services was drawn back to restoration. Where ecosystem services can be measured and protected there is usually good reason to do so. But in most cases presented, practitioners were interested in using ecosystem services to justify investments and often these were investments in restoration to improve degraded areas.

I was especially encouraged by the conference’s attention to cultural ecosystem services, the rights of indigenous and local people, and the technical prowess that ecosystem service scientists display. They work in the balance of hard science analysing the balance of the biophysical components of landscapes upon which people and our societies and economies benefit, but they must walk the policy line. As in restoration, ecosystem services are an applied field and the knowledge generated must directly support the economic and social frameworks that exist and make them more resilient and sustainable.

-Craig R. Beatty