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Ecosystem Services- A Concept Whose Time Has Come

Ecosystem Services versus Timber Production, that is the question. Can we resolve two problems at once, enabling our local governments to be adequately funded while protecting our forests?
In recent years, more and more people have come to realize that the Earth's environment is very important to their quality of life. Many of them want to do something to protect and assist the earth, but do not know how to do so in a constructive manner. They join groups, worry, protest and complain, but never get beyond separating their recyclables. The desire is there, but the means of accomplishing it is missing from the equation. Ecosystem services is a concept that connects people who would like to actively do something constructive for the health of our planet, with people who can make that desire become reality.

Some of the ecosystem services provided by forested ecosystems in particular, are sequestering carbon from the atmosphere; cooling of the earth's surface; pumping oxygen into the atmosphere, wildlife habitat protection; biodiversity- protection of both native plants and animals; watershed, wetland & riparian protection; flood & sediment control; soil and nutrient cycling; groundwater recharge; and aesthetics. There are many means of accomplishing these goals, the simplest of which are 1) to plant native trees, and 2) to allow existing forests of trees to grow rather than harvest them for timber. Planting trees may seem a trivial endeavor, but living forests of healthy trees serve many of the aforementioned purposes. Allowing these forests to grow for longer periods of time in order to reach maturity is vital to enabling the Earth to recuperate, regenerate and provide for the quality of life of humans into the future.

The components necessary to making ecosystem services viable are markets and demand. Combining the two is essential to creating this solution to some of our ecological problems. Demand is created by consumers who are willing to fund some of the necessary "green" services to be provided and markets are provided by forest managers who are willing to work at actually providing these "green" services in lieu of just managing for timber production.

Many Oregon counties have almost completely supported their local governments by extensive timber production on O & C lands in the past, but that time is over. There are not adequate resources remaining to continue cutting at past rates without decimating ecosystems and destroying the land base. A new means of supporting government must be found and ecosystem services seem most logical. By managing these forests for their ecosystem benefits rather than their timber value, a market can be created. The demand is there- the American public has made it clear that they are ready for this change and willing to pay for it. Rather than having the Federal Government provide "safety net" funds to replace timber revenues, federal funds could be provided to facilitate management of these lands for ecosystem values. A win-win situation for all concerned.

That leaves only one problem to be resolved- an eq uitable method of valuation. I have great confidence that Oregon State University's Forestry Department can come up with a means of doing this and that they must do so quickly to provide a solution to Oregon's governmental funding problem. Once that valuation method is developed, it would then be up to the State and Federal governments to put this into effect. The benefits of managing these forests for ecosystem values would be a boon to all and is a worthy and necessary project for our legislators to get behind. Let's hope that we are smart enough to stop thinking in terms of "the cut" and start thinking in terms of the health of our forests and our planet.

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