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Ecosystems

Ecological Goods and Services Working Group

Due to complex relationships and feedbacks among people, ecosystems, and the biosphere, human well-being is inextricably linked to the optimal use and management of ecosystems. Humans are an integral part of most every ecosystem—not only as agents of change, but as consumers of ecosystem goods and services that range from the provisioning of food, fuel, fiber, and fresh water, to the regulation of processes that affect air quality, climate, erosion control, and human diseases. 

The Ecological Goods and Services Working Group, made up of NIFA national program staff, is working to:

  • identify a research, education, and extension agenda for ecological goods and services within NIFA;
  • coordinate agency efforts in the development and implementation of government-wide initiatives to incorporate ecological goods and services into science and policy, and;
  • form a partnership with land managers, stakeholders, and policy makers to improve the sustainability and stewardship of working lands.

Healthy working land ecosystems are ecological life-support systems, providing a full suite of goods and services that are vital to human health and livelihood.  These natural assets are referred to as ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are commonly defined as benefits people obtain from ecosystems. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment categorizes ecosystem goods and services as follows:

  • provisioning—services, such as food, fresh water, fuel, and fiber;
  • regulating—services, such as climate, water, and disease regulation, as well as pollination;
  • supporting—services, such as soil formation and nutrient cycling; and
  • cultural—services, such as educational, aesthetic, and cultural heritage values, as well as recreation and tourism.

Beyond the provisioning services, many of these services are traditionally viewed as “free” benefits to society, or as “public goods” (e.g., wildlife habitat and diversity, watershed services, pollination, carbon storage, and clean air).  Lacking a formal market, these natural assets are traditionally absent from society's analyses of worth, and their critical contributions are often overlooked in public, corporate, and individual decision-making.

Wise land stewardship requires a more comprehensive valuation of these goods and services within academia, business, and government across many sectors, such as agriculture, youth development, natural resources, and community development.

A number of NIFA programs have a focus on the development of a scientific basis for valuing nature's commodities and the use of this knowledge in the stewardship of working lands. 

NIFA Ecological Goods and Services Working Group members include:

Ecosystem Services Seminar Series

Ecosystems Services Discussion Paper

 

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