The Protective Value of Nature summarizes the latest science on the effectiveness of natural infrastructure in lowering the risks to communities from weather- and climate-related hazards. Over the past two decades, the body of research evaluating and quantifying the protective performance of natural infrastructure has increased significantly. Both model-based assessments and empirical evidence from recent floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters underscore the considerable risk reduction services that natural systems such as wetlands, reefs, dunes, floodplains, and forests provide. At the same time, natural infrastructure offers numerous additional benefits to society, from provision of food and clean water for people and habitat for fish and wildlife, to recreational opportunities, and cultural and spiritual fulfillment.
As we highlight throughout the report, evidence suggests that both natural and nature-based approaches for hazard mitigation can be equally or more effective than conventional structural approaches, and they are often more cost-effective. Since healthy, intact ecosystems are often adapted to natural disturbances such as floods and wildfires, they may have the capacity to withstand or recover from extreme weather- and climate-related hazards and adjust to ongoing environmental changes. Conventional structural approaches (i.e., “gray infrastructure”), on the other hand, often require ongoing maintenance, and may need costly repairs when they fail or are damaged. Thus, natural defenses can play a critical role in enhancing the resilience of human and ecological systems to natural disasters and climate change.
To advance the use of natural infrastructure across the country, the report offers key policy recommendations in the following areas:
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