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Ecosystem Services into Water Resource Planning and Management  

Phoebe Koundouri, Angelos Alamanos, Kostas Dellis, Conrad Landis, and Artemis Stratopoulou

The broad economic notion of ecosystem services (ES) refers to the benefits that humans derive, directly or indirectly, from ecosystem functions. Provisioning ES refer to human-centered benefits that can be extracted from nature (e.g., food, drinking water, timber, wood fuel, natural gas, oils, etc.), whereas regulating ES include ecosystem processes that moderate natural phenomena (pollination, decomposition, flood control, carbon storage, climate regulation, etc.). Cultural ES entail nonmaterial benefits accruing to the cultural advancement of people, such as the role of ecosystems in national and supranational cultures, recreation, and the spur of knowledge and creativity (music, art, architecture). Finally, supporting ES refer to the main natural cycles that nature needs to function, such as photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, the creation of soils, and the water cycle. Most ES either depend on or provide freshwater services, so they are linked to water resources management (WRM). The concept of ES initially had a pedagogical purpose to raise awareness on the importance of reasonable WRM; later, however, it started being measured with economic methods, and having policy implications. The valuation of ES is an important methodology aimed at achieving environmental, economic and sustainability goals. The total economic value of ecosystems includes market values (priced) as well as nonmarket values (not explicit in any market) of different services for humanity’s benefit. The valuation of ES inherently reflects human preferences and perceptions regarding the contribution of ecosystems and their functions to the economy and society. The ES concept and associated policies have been criticized on the technical weaknesses of the valuation methods, interdisciplinary conflicts (e.g., ecological vs. economic perception of value), and ethical aspects on the limits of economics, nature’s commodification, and its policy implications. Since valuation affects the incentives and policies aimed at conserving key ES, e.g., through payment schemes, it is important to understand the way that humans decide and develop preferences under uncertainty. Behavioral economics attempts to understand human behavior and psychology and can help to identify appropriate institutions and policies under uncertainty that enhance ecosystem services that are key to WRM.


National Parks in Developed Countries  

Leslie Richardson and Bruce Peacock

Economics plays an important role not only in the management of national parks in developed countries, but also in demonstrating the contribution of these areas to societal well-being. The beneficial effect of park tourism on jobs and economic activity in communities near these protected areas has at times been a factor in their establishment. These economic impacts continue to be highlighted as a way to demonstrate the benefit and return on investment of national parks to local economies. However, the economic values supported by national parks extend far beyond local economic benefits. Parks provide unique recreation opportunities, health benefits, preservation of wildlife and habitat, and a wide range of ecosystem services that the public assigns an economic value to. In addition, value is derived from the existence of national parks and their preservation for future generations. These nonmarket benefits can be difficult to quantify, but they are essential for understanding and communicating the economic importance of parks. Economic methods used to estimate these values have been refined and tested for nearly seven decades, and they have come a long way in helping to elucidate the extent of the nonmarket benefits of protected areas. In many developed countries, national parks have regulations and policies that outline a framework for the consideration of economic values in decision-making contexts. For instance, large oil spills in the United States, such as the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989 and the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010, highlighted the need to better understand public values for affected park resources, leading to the extensive use of nonmarket values in natural resource damage assessments. Of course, rules and enforcement issues vary widely across countries, and the potential for economics to inform the day-to-day operations of national parks is much broader than what is currently outlined in such policies. While economics is only one piece of the puzzle in managing national parks, it provides a valuable tool for evaluating resource tradeoffs and for incorporating public preferences into the decision-making process, leading to greater transparency and assurance that national parks are managed for the benefit of society. Understanding the full extent of the economic benefits supported by national parks helps to further the mission of these protected areas in developed countries.


The Value of the Environment in Recreation  

Gianluca Grilli

Natural environments represent background settings for most outdoor recreation activities, which are important non-consumptive benefits that people obtain from nature. Recreation has been traditionally considered a non-market service because it is practiced free of charge in public spaces and therefore of secondary relevance for the economy. Although outdoor recreation in natural parks became relevant during the 19th century, the increased popularity of recreation after the Second World War required tools for the assessment of recreational benefits, which were not considered in the evaluation of investments in recreational facilities, and increasing spending for recreational equipment captured the attention of outdoor recreation as an economic sector. In the 1990s, it was observed that many recreational activities were commercialized and started being considered equally important to tourism as a means to boost the economy of local communities. The expansion of outdoor recreation is reflected in a growing interest in the economic aspects, including cost–benefit calculations of the investments in recreational facilities and research on appropriate methods to evaluate the non-market benefits of recreation. The first economic technique used for valuing recreation was the travel cost method that consisted in the assessment of a demand curve, where the demanded quantity is the number of trips to a specific site and the cost is the unit cost of travel to the destination. After this first intuition, the number of contributions on recreation valuation exponentially grew, and new methods were proposed, including methods based on stated preferences for recreation that can be used when travel cost data that reveal consumers’ behavior are not available. A regular assessment of recreational benefits has several advantages for public policy, including the evaluation of investments and information on visitor profile and preferences, income, and price elasticity, which are essential to understand the market of outdoor recreation and propose effective strategies and recreation-oriented management. The increasing environmental pressure associated with participation in outdoor recreation required effective conservation activities, which in turn posed limitations to economic activities of local communities who live in contact with natural resources. Therefore, a balance between environmental, social, and economic interests is essential for recreational destination to avail of benefits without conflicts among stakeholders.