Sustaining recent progress in mitigating acid pollution could require lower emissions caps that will give rise to real or perceived tradeoffs between healthy ecosystems and inexpensive energy. Because most impacts of acid rain affect ecosystem functions that are poorly understood by policy-makers and the public, an ecosystem services (ES) framework can help to measure how pollution affects human well-being. Focused on the Adirondack region (USA), a global ‘hot-spot’ of acid pollution, we measured how the chronic acidification of the region's forests, lakes, and streams has affected the potential economic and cultural benefits they provide to society. We estimated that acid-impaired hardwood forests provide roughly half of the potential benefits of forests on moderate to well-buffered soils – an estimated loss of ∼ $10,000 ha−1 in net present value of wood products, maple syrup, carbon sequestration, and visual quality. Acidic deposition has had only nominal impact – relative to the effects of surficial geology and till depth – on the capacity of Adirondack lakes and streams to provide water suitable for drinking. However, as pH declines in lakes, the estimated value of recreational fishing decreases significantly due to loss of desirable fish such as trout. Hatchery stocking programs have partially offset the pollution-mediated losses of fishery value, most effectively in the pH range 4.8–5.5, but are costly and limited in scope. Although any estimates of the monetary ‘damages’ of acid rain have significant uncertainties, our findings highlight some of the more tangible economic and cultural benefits of pollution mitigation efforts, which continue to face litigation and political opposition.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Loss of ecosystem services due to chronic pollution of forests and surface waters in the Adirondack region (USA)|
|Series title||Journal of Environmental Management|
|Contributing office(s)||New York Water Science Center|
|Other Geospatial||Adirondack region, New England|