Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Ecosystem services champions

Sunset over field on Beavershead-Deerlodge National Forest.
Forage for grazing, habitat for plants and wildlife, and opportunities for aesthetic appreciation are just a few of nature’s benefits provided by public lands like Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in Montana. USDA photo by Preston Keres.

WASHINGTON, DC—It’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, the recreation we enjoy, the health and overall wellness we feel and MORE! The ecosystem services, or “nature’s benefits,” found on our national forests and grasslands include not only life-sustaining air, water and soil, but also provide things that positively impact people’s lives on a daily basis such as jobs and value to local economies, renewable and nonrenewable energy, wood products and pollinators for agriculture crops.

The Associate Deputy Chiefs’ National Ecosystem Services Strategy Team addressed the role of the Forest Service in providing these critical benefits at the Dec. 3 Champions Forum hosted in the Washington Office. NESST attendees explored ways to integrate ecosystem services into the agency’s work as a whole to help meet USDA and the Chief’s priorities.

The Champion’s Forum coincided with the weeklong preeminent international ecosystem services conference: A Community on Ecosystem Services, which included Acting USDA Deputy Under Secretary Dan Jiron as a featured speaker while attracting hundreds of our partners and stakeholders.

The Champion’s Forum feedback received during panel and breakout sessions will help inform NESST’s next steps to address the needs and priorities of Forest Service, such as timber and fire fuels measures and the Shared Stewardship Strategy. The group also identified priority products for the next one to two years, such as outcome-based performance measures, trade-off analyses, ways to calculate benefits, and strategies for highlighting and communicating benefits to the public.

Since the Associate Deputy Chiefs chartered NESST in 2013, the team has assisted the agency and department by:

  • Articulating and valuing the broad suite of goods and services that forests provide to the public, including cultural and aesthetic benefits.
  • Providing meaningful metrics to assess and evaluate ecosystem services impacts over time—and what changes might mean to these benefits.
  • Explaining how ecosystem services delivered by public lands can help sustain the social license and the relevancy of our agency by quantifying outcomes.
  • Encouraging integrated management across program areas to incentivize cooperative decision-making across resource programs.
  • Applying all lands, cross-jurisdictional approaches at scales that benefit communities and ecosystems.
  • Supporting partnership development with other federal and state agencies, municipalities, and non-governmental organizations

Communicating to the public the role of the agency's restoration mission, sharing information regarding impacts and tradeoffs of potential management actions, and providing avenues for feedback will allow the Forest Service to design and apply management tools that ensure people, plants, and animals will enjoy nature’s benefits from these landscapes well into the future.