A multidisciplinary team being led by Alan Steinman and Elaine Sterrett Isely at the Annis Water Resources Institute is conducting an economic valuation study of ecosystem services in seven west Michigan counties. This project, "Economic Valuation of Ecosystem Services in West Michigan" is part of the West Michigan Strategic Alliance's "Quality of Life - Regional Green Infrastructure Enhancement," both of which are funded by People and Land through the Kellogg Foundation.
Green infrastructure is defined as: "An interconnected network of green spaces and other environmental assets that conserves the functions of the natural ecosystem and provides associated benefits to people." In west Michigan, green infrastructure includes dunes, grasslands, forests, wetlands, lakes, rivers and streams, shorelines and riparian habitats, farmland, and watersheds. Ecosystem services are benefits that people obtain - either directly or indirectly - from ecological systems. Benefits may vary between different systems and include products such as food, fuel, or fiber; services that regulate climate, floods, or water; and nonmaterial assets such as cultural or aesthetic benefits. Despite a growing recognition of the importance of ecosystem services, their value has not been well-quantified and is often overlooked in decision-making.
Our project team consists of economists, ecologists, environmental scientists, GIS specialists and policy analysts from Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, and IRN, Inc. The team is associating ecosystem services with land uses in Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Muskegon, Newaygo and Ottawa counties. Values are derived using the benefit transfer methodology, which takes values from published economic and policy studies and adjusts the data for the west Michigan market and its demographic features. These data will be incorporated into an on-line valuation tool, which will link ecological and valuation data.
This project is a preliminary step in quantifying the value of West Michigan's natural resources and its green infrastructure. The project team also is identifying ecological, spatial, and economic data needed for a more in-depth valuation study of unique regional ecological systems - e.g., Kent County's Fruit Ridge Area and Great Lakes dune systems. Nonetheless, our project already has led to important discussions about how ecosystems provide services that currently are taken for granted, which in the long run may be just as valuable as the assignment of numeric values to those services.