Contributions of native forest protection to local water supplies in East Maui.
Tropical forests provide a suite of benefits including biodiversity, cultural value, and a range of ecosystem services. Globally, there is increasing interest in incentivizing native forest protection as a multi-benefit natural infrastructure strategy to secure clean and ample water supplies. In addition to conversion to agriculture and other non-forest land uses, non-native species invasion represents a major threat to these systems, particularly on islands. Whereas several recent efforts have quantified the benefits of reforestation or avoided agricultural expansion in tropical forest areas, the hydrologic and associated economic benefits of avoided invasion have received less attention. To address this gap, we quantified the benefits of protecting native forest from conversion to non-native forest in East Maui, Hawai'i in terms of groundwater recharge, a highly valued hydrologic ecosystem service that water utilities increasingly seek to co-finance. Compared with two counterfactual invasion scenarios, the groundwater recharge benefits of planned conservation activities reached 40.9 to 146.3 million cubic meters over 100 years depending on invasion rate assumptions. This translated to 2.70 to 137.6 million dollars of cost savings to the water utility in present value terms (achieved through reducing reliance on more expensive water alternatives) under a range of discount rates and water scarcity assumptions. Our results suggest that investing in native forest conservation provides an important hydrologic ecosystem service benefit that complements the range of benefits provided by these ecosystems. These findings demonstrate that co-financing native forest conservation represents an important supply side option in water resources planning.