Information for researchers

The ECOSEL Research Concept

Tóth started to work on multi-criteria forest planning problems as a graduate student at Penn State University in 2003. He developed algorithms that can identify forest management plans that are Pareto-efficient with respect to both timber and non-timber objectives (Tóth et al. 2006, Tóth and McDill 2009). Tóth recognized that the potential use of opportunity cost-structures that resulted from the Pareto-analyses could be extended beyond conventional decision support for landowners. He saw that the cost and tradeoff information could not only serve as a platform to solicit public input for natural resource decisions but it could also be used to raise dollars via auctions to fund desired management pathways on both public and private lands (Tóth 2008). The ECOSEL concept was born.

The concept was vetted by Tóth's fellow faculty members at the University of Washington (UW) College of Forest Resources in 2007 to determine if a grant proposal could be put together to acquire funding to test the mechanism. Credits for breakthroughs in the design and the potential applicability of the method go to forest ecologist Ettl and geospatial scientist and computer programmer Rogers who both work at the UW in Seattle. The funding effort received a boost when UW environmental economist Rabotyagov joined the group in 2008. Rabotyagov designed, and subsequently implemented a series of experimental auctions that gathered empirical evidence to suggest that the method could increase the efficient provisions of ecosystem services to the public while generating a revenue for the provider (Rabotyagov In Review). The positive results helped the group acquire a major grant in 2009 from the USDA Agriculture and Food Research initiative's Managed Ecosystems Program to complete the testing and the developement phases of ECOSEL and to run a real auction at Pack Forest, Washington in 2011.

Finally, in 2010, environmental attorneys Liegel and Quasius from K&L Gates LLP agreed to join the team on a pro bono basis to create a legal framework for the mechanism. Current efforts focus on (1) the development of a web-based bidding platform to allow real transactions, (2) further tests to streamline auction design, (3) improvements in the ECOSEL optimization module and (4) market studies to identify marketable ecosystem services at the test sites. Graduate research assistants who have contributed to the project with strong technical skills are Kushch, Könnyű, Rozance and Roesch.