Fall Leaf color along The Blue Ridge Parkway, Pisgah National Forest
Pisgah National Forest, Fall leaf color along The Blue Ridge Parkway. Photos by Barrett Walker during site visit.
Project Report:
Delivering Ecosystem Services in the Southern Appalachians
- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


The undeveloped federal and private forest lands of the Southern Appalachians represent critical natural capital that supports water quality, flood control, recreation, and other ecosystem services for the communities and people of the region. Many of these values are often overlooked in planning for the management and stewardship of these lands and the consequence is a loss of that critical natural capital over time. This trend could be slowed or reversed by bringing information to federal land planning efforts and augmenting market-based incentives for building up, rather than using up, natural capital. The Wilderness Society will develop solid information about ecosystem service flows across western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee and put that information into action in the development of better national forest plans and, through collaboration with the Dogwood Alliance, enhanced markets for ecosystem services supplied by private lands.

Outdoor class, Cradle of Forestry.
Children learn about the value of sustainable forestry at the U.S. Forest Service's "Cradle of Forestry" site. Forests provide valuable ecosystem services in addition to timber, but because these services are currently not priced in the economic system, they are overused and depleted. This trend could be slowed or reversed by bringing information to federal land planning efforts and augmenting market-based incentives for building up, rather than using up, natural forest capital that provides ecosystem services such as clean water.


Project Activities and Outcomes

Since its inception in May, we have focused on merging the approach and tools of ecosystem services assessment with existing efforts by The Wilderness Society to influence the planning process for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest. As part of the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership (NPFP), TWS is sharing this project with the Partnership to broaden the understanding and influence of the ecosystem services approach.

Specific actions and outcomes to date include:

• Contracted with Spencer Phillips of Key-Log Economics, LLC to develop materials for and co-lead our economics and ecosystem services workshop, to develop planning-region-wide estimates of ecosystem services value, and to prepare a scoping brief on ecosystem services for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest planning process.

• Engaged the NPFP’s leadership team, and especially its Economic Development Interest Area working group, in discussion about the project, with the result that the Partnership will be a co-sponsor of the in-person economic trends and ecosystem services workshop now scheduled for early November.
o We are currently working with NPFP leadership to identify participants for the workshop and to extend invitations to those individuals.

• Selected a focal area for our economic and ecosystem services assessment workshop: Transylvania and Haywood Counties, North Carolina. This two-county sub region area provides an excellent and strategic testing ground for this approach. It includes both very traditional resource-using interests (e.g.,timber) as well as economic development based on scenic and recreational amenities (e.g., retirement, tourism, footloose entrepreneurs) – that is, an economy based on the full suite of ecosystem services. The two counties are also home to a potential National Recreation Area that could be designated as a result of the national forest planning process. The assessment produced by the workshop will support both the scientific and political needs of that designation campaign.

• Developing a workshop agenda and beginning to create materials that cover three integrated topics:
o Community Viz: a GIS-based approach to understanding and acting on regional ecological, social and economic trends.
o Economic Trends Assessment: a standard or traditional examination of economic, demographic and social trends, albeit with the lens or filter that many of those trends are related to ecosystem services, including water quality and quantity, scenic beauty, and healthy plant and animal population.
o Ecosystem Services Assessment: a new approach to understanding the foundation for economic prosperity and social health. The approach and supporting tools enable participants to consider the role of national forest land in supporting ecosystem processes and delivering ecosystem benefits to individuals, businesses and communities in the region.

• Obtaining and preparing background and baseline economic and ecosystem services data in tabular and spatial (GIS) form for use in the workshop (focused on two counties as noted above), the region-wide ecosystem services valuation, and the scoping brief. Key data include GIS layers for land cover and an index of wildness for all land in the region and a database of per-acre ecosystem service values applicable to the ecological and socio-economic milieu of the Southern Appalachians.

• Further development of Key-Log Economics’ interactive ecosystem services assessment tool for use in the forest planning focused workshop. (Previous applications had been in the context of less-policy-specific climate adaptation contexts).


Though it may seem trivial, our biggest and only challenge to date has been simply finding a time for the workshop that meshes with the ongoing work of the NPFP and suits the schedules of key participants. More than a matter of finding a couple free days on the calendar, scheduling is fraught with the need to ensure that various stakeholder groups can be represented. Holding a workshop in August would have been ideal but also would have meant the exclusion of key participants from the recreation and tourism industry.
In September, we will be competing for time and attention that should rightly be focused on the 50th anniversary of the signing and passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. We did not want our workshop to be construed as yet another facet of wilderness advocacy—though, to be sure, delivery of ecosystem services is a strong argument for wilderness designation. Instead, we want the workshop and its resulting information to support broad improvements in national forest and other land management that connect ecosystem services to economic well-being.

So, after much thought, we have tentatively scheduled the workshop for either November 7-8 or November 14-15, when we can have sufficient time and attention from the widest range of stakeholders/participants and when we can support a message that is more purely focused on ecosystem services. The only thing unfortunate about this timing is that the workshop will not have happened before the field visit by Barrett and Tom Walker, and we will not then have workshop results to review. We will, however, have much to discuss about the broader TWS program, the potential for securing ecosystem service benefits through the National Recreation Area designation, and we can review the ecosystem services assessment tool that we will use in the workshop.

Oct. 2014 Site visit group photo
Foundation site visit to the "Cradle of Forestry". As described on the website, www.cradleofforestry.com, forest conservation dates back to the construction of the Biltmore Estate and the reforestation of abused and farmed over land that once ailed the surrounding landscape. Forestry education began in 1889 when George W. Vanderbilt purchased the first land holding in Asheville for his Estate. Today the Cradle of Forestry in America is a 6,500 acre Historic Site within the Pisgah National Forest, set aside by Congress to commemorate the beginning of forestry conservation in the United States. Pictured: Barrett & Thomas Walker, Walker Foundation; Tom Hatley, Heritage & Natural Resources Consulting; Spencer Phillips, Key Log Economics; Jill Gottesman & Brent Martin, Wilderness Society.


Correcting Economic Imbalances: Economic imbalances affecting natural resources are often caused by a lack of information about value of natural assets to the economy. When such information is lacking, those assets are discounted or ignored in both market transactions and public decision making (which often relies on cost-benefit or similar analysis). Our project will develop information about the value of natural capital in the Southern Appalachians and bring that information to bear on land management decision-making.

Exploring market-based solutions: As a side benefit of this project, we intend to share results with the Dogwood Alliance in order to identify opportunities for bundling and stacking water, recreation, or other services with the carbon sequestration services already covered by the Carbon Canopy program. This will provide better markets for forest landowners seeking to retain, but still realize financial benefits from, natural capital.


The geographic scope of the project is western North Carolina, specifically the region surrounding the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is one of two regions where we intend to pilot this approach and tools, but over the course of future years, we anticipate that it will be applied and further refined in work throughout the United States.

Information Dissemination

At this point in the project, much information dissemination would be either impossible or premature. We have, however, had several discussions with the NPFP leadership team regarding ecosystem services and the workshop. We are also completing an invitation to participants that will be a first explanation of the ecosystem services idea and its importance in forest planning and other efforts to secure the economic future of communities in the region.

Amount Approved
$30,000.00 on 1/17/2014 (Check sent: 1/31/2014)

Looking Glass Falls, Pisgah National Forest.
Looking Glass Falls, Pisgah National Forest.

Looking Glass Falls, Pisgah National Forest.
Fall Leaf color along The Blue Ridge Parkway, Pisgah National Forest
Oct. 2014 Site visit group photo
Sunburst Trout Co. sells "sustainable farm-raised rainbow trout"
Lake Logan Dam, Nantahala National Forest
Outdoor class, Cradle of Forestry.
Pmt. for Ecosystem Svc. Cases (PDF)

1615 M Street NW
Washington, DC 20036

(202) 429-2625 ext 2625
(800) 843-9453 ext 9453
(202) 429-3957 ext 3957 (fax)


Kelly Martin
Corporate and Foundation Relations Officer, The Wilderness Society

Posted 10/4/2013 2:44 PM
Updated   10/23/2015 10:36 AM

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Sunburst Trout Co. sells "sustainable farm-raised rainbow trout"
Sunburst Trout Co. sells "sustainable farm-raised rainbow trout". The trout farm is supplied by clean water from Nantahala National Forest. The farm is an example of a business that depends upon ecosystem services provided by National Forests.

Lake Logan Dam, Nantahala National Forest
Lake Logan Dam, Nantahala National Forest. One of the original purposes for the establishment of National Forests in the Eastern U.S. was the protection of watersheds and the supply of clean water. Sunburst Trout Farm is supplied by water from this source.

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