Ecosystem Services and Public Policy

Ecosystem services have been a popular theme in conservation policy. By preserving or restoring areas of natural habitat, the argument goes, important goods and services such as clean air and water, food control, and crop pollination will be provided to society.

But the situation is not as simple as these caricatures might suggest. Nature may provide services of immense value to humanity in total, but if nature-based ventures would be profitable, why would the public sector have to subsidize them, as we often see?

When it comes to ecosystem services, some conservation advocates have promoted public policies aimed at incorporating ecosystem services into regulatory decision-making. The common view expressed by conservation advocates fits neatly into a paradigm in which regulators would determine the proper land-use choices and restrict property rights accordingly.

At present, there is simply not enough reliable information about the value of ecosystem services to justify this sort of regulatory approach.

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