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Incorporating Natural Infrastructure and Ecosystem Services in Federal Decision-Making

Today, the Administration released a new memorandum directing Federal agencies to factor the value of ecosystem services into Federal planning and decision-making.

Our natural world provides critical contributions that support and protect our communities and economy. For instance, Louisiana’s coastal wetlands provide billions of dollars worth of flood protection and other benefits. Preserving and restoring forests in the Catskill Mountains enables New York City to access clean water at a cost several times less than the cost of building a new water-filtration plant. And current efforts to plant trees along Oregon’s salmon-rich rivers will improve local water quality – saving costs associated with installing expensive machinery to achieve the same purpose.

These are just a few examples of the many ways that nature creates benefits that contribute to our economic prosperity, protect the health and safety of vulnerable populations, and help build more resilient communities. But these “ecosystem services” are often overlooked. Integrating ecosystem services into planning and decision-making can lead to better outcomes, fewer unintended consequences, and more efficient use of taxpayer dollars and other resources.

That is why, today, the Administration is issuing a memorandum directing all Federal agencies to incorporate the value of natural, or “green,” infrastructure and ecosystem services into Federal planning and decision making. The memorandum directs agencies to develop and institutionalize policies that promote consideration of ecosystem services, where appropriate and practicable, in planning, investment, and regulatory contexts. It also establishes a process for the Federal government to develop a more detailed guidance on integrating ecosystem-service assessments into relevant programs and projects to help maintain ecosystem and community resilience, sustainable use of natural resources, and the recreational value of the Nation’s unique landscapes.

This memorandum complements Ecosystem-Service Assessment: Research Needs for Coastal Green Infrastructure, a report released by the Administration in August that outlines Federal research priorities to inform the integration of coastal green infrastructure and ecosystem services considerations into planning and decision-making. Together, they showcase continued Federal progress in response to recent recommendations made by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the Hurricane Sandy Task Force; the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience; and the White House Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.

Moreover, today’s memorandum builds on complementary efforts across the Obama Administration. For example: 

  • In 2012, the U.S. Forest Service issued a planning rule for National Forest System land-management planning. The rule established policies to better value and protect ecosystem services on 193 million acres of National Forest.
  • In August, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released for public comment a draft list of projects, using funds from the settlement with Transocean Deepwater Inc. for initial investments, which will invest in restoring natural barriers to future storms and other resources critical to the health and safety of local communities and their economies.
  • In September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted a workshop in Lincoln, Nebraska on water-quality markets and the importance of quantifying ecosystem services to support water quality trading and other innovative approaches to mitigating environmental damages.

President Obama has taken unprecedented action to combat climate change, while also ensuring that Federal investments are climate resilient and made with anticipated future conditions in mind. Today’s actions, and future actions and events, will enhance our ability to recognize and leverage the benefits of natural systems, protect against natural hazards, and support social and economic development while keeping our communities and our world healthy and livable.


Tamara Dickinson is Principal Assistant Director for Environment & Energy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Timothy Male is Associate Director for Conservation and Wildlife at the Council on Environmental Quality.

Ali Zaidi is Associate Director for Natural Resources, Energy, and Science at the White House Office of Management and Budget.