Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Vermont
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Schwenk, W. S., T. M. Donovan, W. S. Keeton, and J. S. Nunery. 2012. Carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity: comparing ecosystem services with multi-criteria decision analysis. Ecological Applications 22:1612-1627.


Increasingly, land managers seek ways to manage forests for multiple ecosystem services and functions, yet considerable challenges exist in comparing disparate services and balancing trade-offs among them. We applied multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) and forest simulation models to simultaneously consider three objectives: (1) storing carbon, (2)producing timber and wood products, and (3) sustaining biodiversity. We used the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) applied to 42 northern hardwood sites to simulate forest development over 100 years and to estimate carbon storage and timber production. We estimated biodiversity implications with occupancy models for 51 terrestrial bird species that were linked to FVS outputs. We simulated four alternative management prescriptions that spanned a range of harvesting intensities and forest structure retention. We found that silvicultural approaches emphasizing less frequent harvesting and greater structural retention could be expected to achieve the greatest net carbon storage but also produce less timber. More intensive prescriptions would enhance biodiversity because positive responses of early successional species exceeded negative responses of late successional species within the heavily forested study area. The combinations of weights assigned to objectives had a large influence on which prescriptions were scored as optimal. Overall, we found that a diversity of silvicultural approaches is likely to be preferable to any single approach, emphasizing the need for landscape-scale management to provide a full range of ecosystem goods and services. Our analytical framework that combined MCDA with forest simulation modeling was a powerful tool in understanding trade-offs among management objectives and how they can be simultaneously accommodated.