Supporting Natural Resource Management— The Role of Economics at the Department of the Interior

Executive Summary

The first U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Economics Workshop (hereafter “Workshop”) was held April 5–7, 2017 in Washington, D.C., to identify, highlight, and better understand needs and opportunities for economic analysis to support DOI’s mission. The Workshop, jointly convened by the DOI Office of Policy Analysis and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Science and Decisions Center, provided an opportunity for DOI’s economists to share expertise and experiences and to build collaboration and communication channels across DOI.

Natural and cultural resource managers face complex questions and often have to balance competing stakeholder interests. Per the mission statement, DOI “protects and manages the Nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage; provides scientific and other information about those resources; and honors its trust responsibilities or special commitments to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and affiliated island communities.” Economic analysis is relevant to issues integral to nearly all the land and water management decisions made by DOI. More than 80 DOI economists gathered at the Workshop to share their work, discuss common challenges, and identify approaches to advance the use and contribution of economics at the DOI.


Key Findings

Workshop participants identified a set of findings including communication issues, lack of standardization, and a need to continue developing methods and data for economic analysis. One challenge identified was a lack of understanding of economic concepts and conclusions among decision makers and policymakers, physical and biological scientists, natural and cultural resource managers, and the public. As a result, DOI teams that would benefit from economic analysis might not consult DOI economists or bring them in too late in the process for truly integrated analytical design. DOI economists also noted gaps in communication among the DOI economics community. 

Participants discussed a need to develop and standardize methods for estimating natural resource values. They also noted issues with consistency in energy resource modeling. Another area requiring further research is the consideration of interactions and tradeoffs among DOI-managed energy, water, and biological resources. Finally, the value of scientific information is not well understood, which may lead to underprioritizing its development and utilization.