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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

2 - Ecosystem services and ecological landscapes


… we have defined the environment as a kind of natural asset or nonreproducible capital good which is the source of economically valuable direct and indirect services to man. These services include residuals absorption or waste receptor services as well as life-sustaining, amenity, and materials, and materials supply services. These services are all economic goods in the sense that people are willing to pay to receive more of them or to avoid a reduction in the quantity or quality of the services that they provide.

(Freeman et al. 1973, p. 22)


If we are to view ecosystems as economic assets, then it is helpful to be able to measure this form of “ecological wealth.” This chapter examines further how ecosystems can be considered as economic assets. In order to do this, we develop the use of land, or ecological landscape, as the basic unit of most ecological processes and the services derived from them, and use this approach to illustrate the importance of valuing ecosystem services in land use decisions.

As noted in Chapter 1, an important contribution of natural resource economics has been to treat the natural environment as a form of capital asset. The literature on ecosystem services implies that these environmental systems can also be viewed as natural assets that produce a flow of beneficial goods and services over time. By drawing on both sets of literature, one can apply the traditional “natural capital” approach of resource economics to develop the analysis of ecosystems as natural assets.

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