Welcome to the Forest Flyer, a quarterly news update from the United States Forest Service International Programs Africa & Middle East Team. To view previous issues of this newsletter, please click here. For more information about our programs, contact Kathleen Sheridan, Assistant Director, at kathleen.sheridan@usda.gov.
Nikola Smith, U.S. Forest Service ecosystem services expert
Meet Nikola Smith Regional Partnership Coordinator and Conservation Finance Program Manager for the Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest. She develops ecosystem services-based partnerships to advance restoration on public and private forestlands and is grateful for the opportunity to participate in International Programs projects since 2010.

How do you define ecosystem services? 

Answer: Ecosystems services are the life-sustaining benefits that nature provides. These include tangible goods such as food, water and forest products; processes such as climate regulation and water purification; cultural benefits including recreation opportunities and spiritual connections with nature; and fundamental supporting services such as nutrient cycling and soil formation.

Why are ecosystem services so important?

Answer: Ecosystem services are critical to supporting life. Highlighting these benefits and human dependence on natural systems communicates the importance of conservation and advances forest restoration goals.

How can the U.S. Forest Service help partners maintain the services that ecosystems provide?

Answer: USFS staff can help assess the ecosystem services provided by forests in quantitative and qualitative terms and design forest management approaches that sustain those services over time. These assessments can include benefits provided to stakeholders at multiple scales: from national sustainable development goals to local livelihood improvements. The USFS can also help implement pilot projects including payments for ecosystem services and watershed investment programs that leverage resources for restoration, conservation and community wellbeing.
Can you give an example of an ecosystem service project we support?

Answer:  The Africa and Middle East program has supported ecosystem services projects in a variety of contexts. These include valuation of ecosystem services provided by three critical watersheds in Kenya (see image to right), assessment of the socio-economic importance of nature for land use planning in Mozambique, and applications of an ecosystem services framework to forest management in Israel.   

How can we demonstrate the success of an ecosystem service project? and can you share any successes the US forest Service has supported?

Answer: Success can be measured by seeing real change in forest management resulting in mutually beneficial outcomes for people and nature. U.S. Forest Service International Programs is currently working with USAID/Kenya & East Africa to advance the ecosystem services valuation referenced above and operationalize payments for ecosystem services and conservation finance in a priority trans-boundary landscape. This transition from theory to practice is a critical achievement.
The U.S. Forest Service valuation of three critical watersheds in Kenya.
The U.S. Forest Service’s International Programs recently undertook the first national-scale snapshot of ecosystem services in Zimbabwe. The assessment provides a better understanding of the pressures facing Zimbabwe and examines how these pressures might affect the provision of critical ecosystem services from natural landscapes. 

A particular interest was to assess how pressures and ecosystem services were reflected in patterns of provincial administrative units, and changes in land tenure resulting from the Fast Track Land Reform Program starting in 2000. To this end, USFS analyzed tree loss, fire, and population data from the past twenty years to detect trends in relation to woody biomass, water, tourism, biodiversity, and non-timber forest products. Findings indicated that changes in land tenure and land use were associated with changes in tree loss and fire frequency. The USFS team also integrated available data on large-scale and artisanal mining, and commercial timber harvest. Read the assessment here.
The 2000 Fast Track Land Reform Program resulted in the permanent clearing of woodlands and forests for agriculture, reduced fallow periods, and environmental degradation, such as soil erosion, overgrazing, and excessive resource extraction. Changes in land cover resulted in:

▶ habitat loss for wild flora and fauna ▶ modifications to fire frequency ▶ loss of ecosystem services for local and regional populations.
Jordan is one of the most water insecure countries in the world. Its acquifers are declining due to excessive groundwater use. Climate change is exacerbating the problem.

The U.S. Forest Service and partners are working on landscape-level water conservation projects that complement infrastructure solutions and restore functioning ecosystems.

The Majidiyya Watershed Restoration Pilot Project (right) is an example of a viable landscape-level solution. 

Read about the achievement, the need, and the restoration details by clicking to the right.