Environmental services

Today is the fourth day of journey two for Chesapeake Semester and so far we have hiked in Susquehanna State Park, kayaked at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, and gotten as close as we could to the base of the Conowingo Dam. With more days to come on the journey I look forward to what lies ahead.

Around the campfire at Susquehanna State Park we had a group discussion on environmental services. I know that this does not seem like the typical campfire conversation to most people, but it was a conversation that I believe should have one of the strongest impacts on any person who believes that something should be done to help the environment.

As defined by the writing Ecosystems and Human Well-being: A Framework for Assessment, which was authored by over twenty people, ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. While this is not a fancy and scientific definition that many people expect, this definition explains why ecosystem services are so important. The reason that it is so important is because of the words “benefits people obtain from ecosystems.” If it was not for the people aspect of this definition then it would mean nothing, however because they relate back to people, environmental services can help save the world.

If you were to look back through my earlier blogs you would see that in my blog titled “Chesapeake Ethic” I said that my ethic was to do everything you can but understand that you can not do it all. One reason that people can not do it all is because of money–if someone is willing to buy a state park for more money than the park makes in a year then the state is most likely going to sell it, so the question is: how do you make the state park more valuable? The answer to this question lies in ecosystem services. Because ecosystem services benefit humans, it is possible to put an economic value on those services (aka a price tag). So if that price tag adds up to a higher number than the buyers offer, then there is a much better chance of that state park being preserved and not sold.

Another example of ecosystem services would be oyster reefs. In the paper Economic Valuation of Ecosystem Services Provided by Oyster Reefs the authors break down the services that oyster reefs provide in order to prove that oyster reefs are valuable and there should be more of them. In the paper the authors break down how valuable oyster reefs are based on factors other than just their commercial value.  Some of these factors include the amount of fish and crustaceans you can catch in the oyster reef due to the habitat it creates, the amount of nitrogen they sequester, plus many other benefits that oyster reefs produce. Overall they determined that not including harvest of the oysters, oyster reefs add up on average to be worth about 10,325 dollars.

If you are like me and want to help keep forest standing and waters clean but do not always know how, ecosystem services are a great place to start.


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