Jackie Robinson, Jared Dent and Gabriella Schaffer, School of Economics Discussion Paper No. 420, February 2010, School of Economics, The University of Queensland. Australia.


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Wetland ecosystems provide society with a range of valuable ecosystem services. However, wetlands worldwide are experiencing increasing pressure from a number of sources, caused by an interrelated combination of market failure and policy intervention failure. Whatever the cause, the result is massive degradation and loss of these ecosystems and ultimately, loss of their services. To better manage wetlands the availability of sufficient relevant and reliable scientific information is required together with an assessment tool capable of providing meaningful evaluations of the consequences of management. Current assessments of wetlands are often biased towards either economic or scientific issues, with limited attempts at integration. Evaluations that neglect integration overlook the complexity of wetland ecosystems and have failed to sufficiently protect these areas. This paper reviews the literature to propose an evaluation framework which combines a scientific assessment of wetland function with cost utility analysis (CUA) to develop a meaningful trade-off matrix. A dynamic approach to wetland assessment such as the hydro geomorphologic method (HGM), developed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, offers the opportunity to consider interrelationships between ecosystem process and functions and the resulting ecosystem services. CUA facilitates the evaluation of projects where the consequences of investment or no investment are complex and difficult to value in monetary terms. The evaluation framework described in this paper has the potential to deliver an integrated wetland management tool. However, for this potential to be realised, targeted interdisciplinary research by scientists and economists is required.