EMERGY-based environmental systems assessment of a multi-purpose temperate mixed-forest watershed of the southern Appalachian Mountains, USA
Emergy (with an 'm') synthesis was used to assess the balance between nature and humanity and the equity among forest outcomes of a US Forest Service ecosystem management demonstration project on the Wine Spring Creek watershed, a high-elevation (1600 m), temperate forest located in the southern Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, USA. EM embraces a holistic perspective, accounting for the multiple temporal and spatial scales of forest processes and public interactions, to balance the ecological, economic, and social demands placed on land resources. Emergy synthesis is a modeling tool that allows the structure and function of forest ecosystems to be quantified in common units (solar emergy-joules, sej) for easy and meaningful comparison, determining 'system-value' for forcing factors, components, and processes based on the amount of resources required to develop and sustain them, whether they are money, material, energy, or information. The Environmental Loading Ratio (ELR), the units of solar emergy imported into the watershed via human control per unit of indigenous, natural solar emergy, was determined to be 0.42, indicating that the load on the natural environment was not ecologically damaging and that excess ecological capacity existed for increasing non-ecological activities (e.g. timbering, recreation) to achieve an ELR of 1.0 (perfect ecological-economic balance). Three forest outcomes selected to represent the three categories of desired sustainability (ecological, economic, and social) were evaluated in terms of their solar emergy flow to measure outcome equity. Direct economic contribution was an order of magnitude less (224 X 1012 solar emergy-joules (sej) ha-') than the ecological and social contributions, which were provided at annual rates of 3083 and 2102 X 1012 sej ha-1, respectively. Emergy synthesis was demonstrated to holistically integrate arid quantify the interconnections of a coupled natul-e-hu~nans ystem allowing the goals of ecological balance and outcome equity to bemeasured quantitatively.