Ecosystem Services (Part II): Land Use and Ecosystem Services



This is the 2nd posting in a 4-part series on ecosystem services.  Ecosystem services are the services that nature provides to humans, society, and the economy.  Today, I list below 5 articles that address various aspects of the relationship between ecosystem services and land use, ranging from the structural functions and processes of the land use regulatory system, recommendations for organizing land use powers around ecosystem service districts, wetlands and land development, forest watersheds and land use, and the economics of land use with respect to species’ habitat.  Please see yesterday’s posting for an overview of ecosystem services and future postings for scholarship on property law and ecosystem services and issues in valuing ecosystem services.                                           


1) Arnold, Craig Anthony (Tony), The Structure of the Land Use Regulatory System in the United States. Journal of Land Use and Environmental Law, Vol. 22, No. 2, p. 441, 2007. Available at SSRN:    




The land use regulatory system has been criticized for causing or failing to solve social problems and for perceived inherent defects, such as inefficiency, inequality, and environmental harm. These criticisms fail to understand the land use regulatory system in the United States as a dynamic, functional, adaptive system.

This paper systematically analyzes the: 1) functions; 2) location and scale; 3) components; 4) processes; and 5) values of the land use regulatory system in the United States. If we are to improve our land use practices to be fairer, more efficient, and more ecologically responsible, we must understand how land use planning and regulation function and change over time.

Particular attention is given to the role of land use regulation as a mediator between people and places, between communities and power, and between freedom and boundaries. Additional attention is given to the broad array of forces shaping land use decisions, the
thinness of land use law as a set of rules and limits (contrasted with its role as a source of tools, authority, and discretion), and the patchiness of land use regulatory authority in the United States.

This paper also examines a specific issue of law and policy: the extent to which the land use regulatory system can value and conserve ecosystem services,
the humanly beneficial services that nature provides. The paper explores both barriers to and opportunities for accounting for ecosystem services in land use planning and regulation.    


2) Heal, Geoffrey M., Daily, Gretchen, Ehrlich, Paul, Salzman, James  E., Boggs, Carol, Hellman, Jessica, Hughes, Jennifer, Kremen, Claire and Ricketts, Taylor, Protecting Natural Capital through Ecosystem Service Districts. Available at SSRN:    




In this article, we focus on the potential of governmental authorities dedicated to management of ecosystem services. We argue that the creation of such Ecosystem Service Districts (ESDs) will improve the efficient provision of services necessary for human welfare. At the moment, when agencies manage for natural resources, they typically do so in a defined geographical area or district. Given the prevalence and importance of districts for soil conservation, resource conservation, flood control, and other local services, we explain how ESDs could provide a coherent and efficient governmental institution for monitoring and investing in natural capital. A focus on ESDs would create a mechanism to help ensure that natural capital is protected and maintained with the same care and concern as that given to built and human capital.

Establishing and managing ESDs will involve an exploration of the underlying ecological processes that provide the services, of the economic significance of the services, and of the legal issues involved in managing natural ecosystems for the good of a local or regional community. Central in all these analyses will be land use decisions. Land use determines which of the initial ecosystems and services are maintained intact. In addition, many of the key trade-offs between the continued functioning of natural ecosystems and the extension of economic activities arise naturally in the context of land-use choices, such as farming versus forestation, development versus conservation, etc.

In examining the geographical, economic, and legal obstacles in designing ESDs, we suggest an integrative framework for managing the patterns of land use in a district that can provide several different ecosystem services, and that also has the potential to support many different types of economic activity, some of which can conflict with the continued integrity of the natural ecosystems. Part I of the article explains the why ecosystem services are under threat and the potential benefits of managing their conservation through ESDs. Part II lays out the basic ecological-economic framework and principles for district design. Part III sets out the key legal issues and Part IV presents a tentative roadmap of how to put theory into practice. The importance of ecosystem services is no longer disputed. How to realize more fully their value, and hence their conservation, however, remains an active research area. ESDs, though fraught with challenges, provide a potentially powerful institutional mechanism to address the relative neglect of ecosystem services in public policy by bringing their crucial importance into focus and aiding in their preservation.


3) Ruhl, J.B. and Salzman, James  E., The Effects of Wetland Mitigation Banking on People(January 2006). FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 179. Available at SSRN:    




In the decade since the Corps of Engineers (Corps) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially blessed wetland mitigation banking for purposes of satisfying mitigation requirements under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the practice has fueled an ongoing debate about its pros and cons. For the most part, however, the debate has focused on the relative advantages and disadvantages of banking programs in terms of administrative efficiency and ecological impact, with little attention being paid to the effects of wetland mitigation banking on people. This article presents the first comprehensive empirical study of the demographics of wetland mitigation banking, revealing what has long been suspected - that banking facilitates the redistribution of wetland resources from urban to rural areas, taking with them the important ecosystem service values wetlands provide to human communities.

After an overview of the economic service values wetlands provide, the structural biases inherent in the wetland mitigation banking program, and the lack of information about the effects of wetland banking in general, we present the results of an empirical study of 24 wetland mitigation banks in Florida accounting for over 95 percent of all bank activity. By comparing the demographic attributes of the area around each bank to the areas around the development projects that purchase mitigation bank credits to satisfy their mitigation requirements, we show that the loss of wetland resources is concentrated in urban areas, whereas the compensatory mitigation provided by wetland banks is concentrated in rural areas, and that the composition of the project area and bank area populations is significantly different. We examine the policy implications of this effect and suggest several steps that can be taken to better understand and respond to its impact on the distribution of ecosystem services associated with wetland resources.


4) Neuman, Janet C., Thinking Inside the Box: Looking for Ecosystem Services within a Forested Watershed. Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2007. Available at SSRN:    




This paper uses the Tillamook State Forest as a case study to explore the potential for applying an ecosystem services model to future management of a forested watershed with numerous interested constituencies. Part II describes the richness of the Tillomook regional ecosystem, its importance far beyond the immediate vicinity, and the many resulting demands on the forest. Part III discusses the current management model, based on multiple uses competing in the political arena for short-term gain, and then considers an alternative model based on managing the Tillamook with the goal of producing a steady stream of ecosystem services over the long-term. Part IV concludes with a call for "re-reforestation" of the Tillamook State Forest and other similar lands by managing for long-term watershed and forest health.    


5) Pethig, Rudiger and Eichner, Thomas , Economic Land Use, Ecosystem Services and Microfounded Species Dynamics(September 2004). CESifo Working Paper Series No. 1269. Available at SSRN:    




In an integrated economy-ecosystem model humans choose their land use and leave the residual land as habitat for three species forming a food chain. The size of habitat determines the diversity and abundance of species. That biodiversity generates, in turn, a flow of ecosystem services with public-good characteristics for human consumption. The ecosystem submodel yields (rather than assumes!) population growth functions with each species' growth depending on the size of habitat. First the relationship between habitat and species growth (sustenance, decline and extinction) is explored. The laissez-faire economy is shown to result in an underprovision of habitat, making the case for land use restrictions for nature protection. The optimal land use policy is characterized with full regard of ecosystem dynamics. Finally, labor-augmenting technical change is introduced to generate ever increasing pressure towards further habitat reductions. In the laissez-faire economy the habitat is consequently squeezed to zero in the long-run so that all species are doomed. Social optimality demands, however, to refrain from using all land for economic purposes despite ever-growing labor productivity.