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Pitt professor's article considers nature as a service provider

A study published Feb. 1 in the journal Bioscience finds that giving economic value to environmental systems may actually help preserve those systems in the long run. The study, led by University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) Professor Stephen Farber and titled "Linking Ecology and Economics for Ecosystem Management," uses several case studies to illustrate how an ecosystem management perspective can aid in management decisions.

The research included in the study takes an element of a natural system, like a tree, and focuses on the services provided by that element, such as its ecological benefits. This approach brings together two disciplines that historically are not allied: economics, which traditionally assigns set values, and ecology, which characterizes how nature works.

"That means looking at a tree as something more than a piece of timber," said Farber. "The tree clearly has a monetary value as timber, but it also has an aesthetic value, and can reduce flooding and provide storm damage."

The challenge, according to Farber, comes when people make the argument that you can't place a value on nature. "They say you should not trivialize nature by assigning it monetary values, but implicitly we do that all the time, for example, when we cut down trees to put in a parking lot. My argument would be that we need to think about nature's values more explicitly."

In order to facilitate a more explicit way of thinking, Farber and the other researchers worked with the staffs of three Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites to use the ecological management system to address environmental issues. In the case of the Plum Island ecosystem, located in the estuary and watersheds of Plum Island Sound off the Massachusetts coast, that meant reducing estuarine eutrophication and increasing the maintenance of wetlands while providing adequate water supplies for a growing human population. The resea
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Contact: Hali Felt
halifelt@pitt.edu
412-624-4238
University of Pittsburgh
3-Feb-2006


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