Drinking water, wood products, clean air, foraged foods, scenic vistas. These are some of the things that come to mind when many of us are thinking about nature’s benefits to people. And this is why the U.S. Forest Service works to highlight the connections between public values, the condition of the land, and the management efforts needed to sustain nature’s benefits, or ecosystem services.
By identifying the benefits most prized by communities, the Forest Service prioritizes land management objectives and engages with the people most impacted, to develop and implement plans to sustain these resources.
For example, recognizing how air pollution can harm plants and animals and ruin magnificent vistas valued by visitors to America’s wildlands, the Forest Service strategized with state and local partners nationwide to recover clean air in scores of large scenic wilderness areas. Air quality has improved, with the majority of areas experiencing clearer natural visibility over the past several years.
For instance in the San Gorgonio Wilderness on California’s San Bernardino National Forest, visual range improved by over 81 percent, from a worst-day average of 27 miles in 2000 to 49 miles in 2014.
A collaborative focus on nature’s benefits to people can also strengthen relationships among communities, tribes, private stakeholders, and other organizations by defining common stewardship objectives.
For example, for the Jamestown S’Klallam people of the Dungeness River watershed in Washington State, salmon are an essential part of daily life and culture. The S’Klallam are committed to actively collaborating with the Forest Service and other partners to manage and restore the local watershed.
In 2016, the tribe partnered with the Olympic National Forest to implement the Dungeness Watershed Large Wood Project. By constructing eleven log jams in the Gray Wolf River, the partners were able to improve spawning and rearing habitat on national forest land for three fish species listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act: Puget Sound Chinook, Puget Sound steelhead, and Olympic Peninsula bull trout.
This type of collaborative planning increases transparency and trust between the Forest Service, its partners, and the public. Success stories like these show that when we understand how humans value the benefits that nature provides, we strengthen our connection to both nature and each other.