Humans obtain a variety of benefits in the form of goods and services from natural ecosystems. These benefits range from provision of food and timber to aesthetic and recreational experiences.
Galveston Bay Ecosystem Services Workshop
Ecosystem services are the benefits that people and businesses receive from a functioning ecosystem. Examples of ecosystem services include adequate supplies of water for domestic and industrial uses; filtration of particulates from air and impurities from rainwater by forests; habitat for birds and wildlife which provide the basis for ecotourism; and wetlands, bayous and water bodies that regulate storm-water and mitigate flooding.
The greater Houston-Galveston region is rich in forests, grasslands, wetlands, and bayou habitats that provide an abundance of ecological services that are enjoyed by many people. The types and values of ecological services are not homogeneous as one moves around the region, but they are plentiful. Habitats in the Lower Galveston Bay Watershed provide a significant contribution to the economy in the forms of commercial fishing, recreational activity (e.g. swimming, birding and fishing), and flood mitigation.
The Houston-Galveston Region is expected to experience major population growth by 2035. The Houston-Galveston Area Council has projected the population for the region will increase by 3.5 million people and will require significant increases in housing and office space to support that growth. Economic development and land-use conversion in the Houston-Galveston region is expected to put significant pressure on local ecosystems. Decision-makers need to factor in values and preferences for ecosystem services so existing services can be maximized and the full impact of altering ecosystem functions can be evaluated.
It will be important for planners and developers to understand how different development scenarios impact the delivery of these ecosystem services, both in quantity, quality and distribution. While much data and information exist on the ecosystem services of the Houston-Galveston region, no process or comprehensive tool or set of tools currently exist to systematically examine and analyze the full range of ecological services.