Our Work

Ecosystem Services for Land Use Planning in the Houston-Galveston Region

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. It is difficult to factor these benefits into decisions about natural landscapes unless the benefits from the natural ecology are quantified in some way. This is the goal of diverse efforts to place values on the goods and services provided by natural ecosystems.

The need to inform land use decisions in the Houston-Galveston region is great. Houston is the largest city in the country with no zoning. The region lacks coordinated land use regulation, has the economic and demographic drivers for continued sprawl, but is surrounded by valuable natural space. The region is rich in data relevant to ecosystem services and has a network of cooperative stakeholders in place that includes environmental scientists, social scientists and technical experts as well as important user groups for testing the product.

This project is led by Dr. Jim Lester, President of HARC. HARC and its partners are working to create a decision support system for land use decisions affecting aquatic and wetland habitats in the Houston-Galveston region. The decision support system will be based on geographic information systems (GIS) software and will contain land use/land cover classifications, final ecosystem goods and services (FEGS) assigned to land classes, and production functions of the FEGS. A prototype will be created using data and collaborators from two counties around Houston, Texas.

The system will evaluate the impact of land use decisions on the output of FEGS. The project has four steps: build a desktop GIS application with habitat classification data; assign the FEGS to the habitat classes; add ecological production functions for water quality and storm water retention to aquatic and wetland classes; and test the system with stakeholders and EPA collaborators. Testing results will be used to improve the system prior to dissemination of the results. Ultimately the goal is to build a broader, online system that will be adopted by regional decision makers and incorporate benefits from a diverse range of ecosystems that are not currently considered in land use planning.

Project Announcements

Publications, Lectures & Presentations

Jim Lester presented Ecosystem Services, Wetlands and Houston's Growth for the Natural Resources Advisory Committee of the Houston-Galveston Area Council on February 6, 2014.

Publications, Lectures & Presentations

HARC Research Scientist, Stephanie Glenn, Program Director, Hydrology and Watersheds, was invited to present at an international workshop on Sustainability of Engineered Rivers in Arid Lands in Austin, Texas.

Primary Researcher