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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on local landscape and natural history of Pend Oreille County, Washington. A partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department has allowed us to expand this program through EPA funding to include more classes, a newsletter and this website.

Nature's Balance Sheet...


by Carol Mack

Our Pend Oreille forests, grasslands, and waters provide a multitude of products and processes that are vital to our health and livelihood. Collectively, these benefits are known as ecosystem services. From the fresh air we breathe and the clean water we drink to the insects that pollinate our crops, these natural assets are traditionally viewed as free "public goods." Because there is no formal market value for ecosystem services, they generally are absent from our economic balance sheets, and we often overlook these critical contributions in public, corporate, and individual decision-making.

But the birds that protect our forests from insect plagues, the grasses that keep soil in place and support a multitude of wild and domestic grazers, and the fungi that both feed and decompose have a real economic and social value. As our forests and waters come under increasing pressure from development and conversion, it becomes especially important to recognize the services natural and wild areas provide. Too often we discover the dollar value of these services after we have eliminated the plants and animals that provide them, and must pay for the consequences. On the balance sheet, we usually end up finding that nature does the work less expensively than the engineered systems we replace her with. But nature’s waterworks, air purifiers and pest control systems are important to all of us way beyond the dollar value of ecosystem services provided. Humans will probably never be able to exactly identify and sum up all the parts of our Pend Oreille ecosystems—but we generally do agree that the whole is great, and worth keeping.

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