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Defenders of Wildlife

Habitat Metrics


Measuring ecosystem services

A goal of most ecosystem services programs is to quantify the individual services or ecological attributes. A measurement system will allow those who provide ecosystem services to sell them to those who have a need or desire for them.

For example, communities need clean and abundant water that comes from surrounding forested watersheds if they are sustainably managed. A public utility with the responsibility to provide that water may choose to pay landowners to implement management practices, like increasing the size of stream buffers or closing logging roads. These transactions work best when the specific benefits can be measured. In this case, the measurements may be reduced water temperature or pounds of nitrogen, phosphorus or sediment that stay on the land and do not end up in streams and rivers. These outcomes improve conditions for native plants, fish, amphibians, reptiles, insects and the ecosystem generally.

Measuring biodiversity directly, which includes both individual species and their habitat, is especially challenging, because the relationships are so complex and the underlying data is incomplete. But without measurements for biodiversity, it is difficult to design programs in which landowners who provide habitat can sell these services in a market context or receive payments for specific outcomes from public incentive programs or private investors.

Counting on the Environment

A program of the Willamette Partnership, called Counting on the Environment, has worked with natural resource agencies, conservation groups and other experts to develop a suite of metrics for ecosystem services in the Northwest. The first set included metrics for wetlands, salmon, upland prairie, and water temperature. These metrics and their user guides are available on the Willamette Partnership’s web site.

Oak Habitat, Floodplain Habitat, and Sagebrush/Sage Grouse metrics

Defenders of Wildlife, with help from consultants and experts, added three more metrics: for Oak Habitat, Floodplain Habitat, and Sagebrush/Sage Grouse Habitat. These metrics can be found here in the form of a spreadsheet calculator and users’ guides.

With these metrics from Counting on the Environment and Defenders of Wildlife, it is now possible to measure habitat values for many of the most important ecosystems at risk in the Northwest United States. Scores are expressed as a percentage of optimum ecological function. The metrics are all intended to be used by expert technical service providers, who have or will receive training for field application.


Several challenges that remain are to determine whether these metrics will be used in market-based and outcome-oriented incentive programs, and if so, how to expand the metric system to include at least the habitats at risk across the United States. A report called Measuring Up: Synchronizing Biodiversity Measurement Systems for Markets and Other Incentive Programs proposes a framework for such a system. These metrics will be most valuable if they are adopted by all natural resource agencies and the private sector, and applied across programs, and link to larger scale planning efforts.

Funding and Support

The Marketplace for Nature portal on the Conservation Registry and the metrics for the Oak Habitat, Floodplain Habitat, and Sagebrush/Sage Grouse Habitat were made possible by generous support from the Biophilia Foundation, Benjamin Hammett, Ph. D., the Bullitt Foundation and the Natural Resource Conservation Service .

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