Sustaining Environmental Capital (SEC) Initiative

Research Project: 


Project Manager: 

Rudy Schuster
SEC test photo 2
Hudson River New York. Photo Credit: Rudy Schuster, USGS.


The Sustaining Environmental Capital (SEC) Initiative aims to provide solid scientific tools that help public land and water decision makers determine the production and valuation of ecosystem services. This is in response to the fourth recommendation of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report: "Federal agencies with responsibilities relating to ecosystems and their services [are] tasked with improving their capabilities to develop valuations for the ecosystem services affected by their decision-making and factoring the results into analyses that inform their major planning and management decisions."

The goal of the SEC Initiative is to develop, integrate, and enhance natural resource management decision tools and information to better enable managers to account for the benefits people receive from ecosystem services (ES) and provide guidance for using ES information in management decisions. The envisioned SEC Initiative has a physical presence addressing policy and science issues and virtual presence represented by an on-line website referred to as the SEC Dashboard.

Success of the SEC Initiative is dependent upon interagency partner engagement to guide development, content, and functional application of products in decision-making. The initial science effort builds on the USGS’s expertise and National Programs related to water, fisheries, modeling, ecosystem services, and economic valuation. Three pilot studies have been launched that leverage existing science efforts, interagency partnerships, and decision making needs. The pilots will be used to demonstrate ES practices that can be applied to other ecological environments. While the pilots are water-based, the SEC is designed so it can grow to include demonstration studies, data, and tools relevant to other ecosystems in future iterations (e.g. forest, dryland, or mountain).

Specific Objectives

The following specific objectives will facilitate achieving these goals.

Objective 1: Gap analysis, coordination, & integration

Objective 1.1: Establish a mechanism to interface USGS ES science with national policy decision making and resource management practices.

Objective 1.2: Incorporate existing ES reviews and organization efforts to serve them on the SEC Dashboard and integrate ES in decision-making.

Objective 2: Adapt ecosystem service data collection, analysis, and application

Objective 2.1: Develop and demonstrate state of the art ES methods in pilot studies through integration with existing ES partner efforts.

Objective 2.2: Establish ES methods and data protocols that are transferable to diverse ecosystems and can be applied nationally.

Objective 3: Develop and launch the SEC Dashboard

Objective 3.1: Develop an on-line website that will enhance assessment of ES and identify trends regionally and nationally.

Objective 3.2: Create an informatics architecture that uses EcoINFORMA to manage data and serve ES tools and information for decision-makers.

Pilot Study Integration

Pilot studies lay the foundation for demonstrating common methods, practices, and outputs that can be used to enhance and feed data to create the SEC Dashboard. 

The Chesapeake pilot will estimate the ecologic production and socioeconomic value of watershed floodplain ecosystem services. The pilot will use floodplain mapping in small watersheds where extensive field data and floodplain landform information exists and link it to the ES. The services that are of interest include: water quality, flood protection, wildlife habitat, and recreation. 

The Delaware pilot will evaluate biofiltration, nutrient flux, storage, and retention associated with freshwater mussel populations within the Delaware River. This information will be incorporated into a stated preference nonmarket valuation study in an effort to quantify the economic value of ecosystem services provided by freshwater mussels.

The Pacific Northwest NAWQA study unit will employ a series of structural equation and regression models to predict biological indicators of stream health (e.g., fish populations, native species richness, benthic invertebrate condition, algae composition, etc.) using information on water and habitat quality. Ecosystem services of interest include: fisheries, recreational use, and water quality. 

Multiple ES valuation methods will be applied across the pilot studies including: 1) benefit transfer to estimate economic values by transferring available information from completed studies; 2) primary data collection to generate detailed values for specific ES; 3) ecological endpoint descriptions to incorporate values in decision making processes; 4) and methods to capture less tangible benefits such as cultural and subsistence values.