Introduction to the Natural Capital Approach in Department of Defense Environments

People depend on nature to sustain and fulfill human life, yet the values of nature are typically ignored in decisions. Mapping and modeling ecosystem services can help highlight the diverse benefits provided to people by nature (what and where) and explore how those benefits might change under different management options--thus bringing information about nature's values into decisions in practical ways. With these approaches, we can improve the state of biodiversity and human well-being by motivating greater and more cost-effective investments in both.

This course introduces the Natural Capital Project's (NatCap's) approach to using ecosystem service information to inform decisions. It uses specific examples from Department of Defense installations to illustrate how the approach works in these environmnets, highlighting key methods and tools used in implementation.

Split into five modules, NCP102 first gives an overview of the inception of the Natural Capital Project's work with the Department of Defense, and explains why these ideas and approaches can be widely applied in other DoD contexts. Module 2 introduces the concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services, the stocks and flows of vital benefits flowing from nature to people. The thids module describes InVEST, NatCap's software tool for mapping, modeling, and valuing ecosystem services. In addition, it provides guidance on project scoping and on matching approaches and tools to a project's goals, decision context, timeline, capacity, and quality of data available. Modules 4-5 offer an overview of the skills needed to use InVEST models, including recommendations for how to effectively summarize and communicate model outputs to stakeholders and other audiences.

Intended Audience

This course is intended for those interested in how natural capital approaches can inform decisions taken by governments, multi-lateral development institutions, and non-governmental organizations, with particular focus on informing Department of Defense land management decisions. It can be a resource for individuals interested in simply learning about these concepts or for those interested in using the NatCap's approaches and tools in their research or to influence decisions.


There are no prerequisites for this course. However, we recommend that you download InVEST and GIS software (either QGIS or ArcGIS). GIS is not mandatory if you do not intend to follow the technical examples or complete the optional assessment contained in modules 4 and 5. InVEST requires a Windows operating system environment to run.

Course Staff

Henry Borrebach

Project Manager for Outreach and Training - Lead Instructor

Henry Borrebach is on the Natural Capital Project's training team, overseeing online education and the annual Natural Capital Symposium, as well as coordinating NatCap trainings around the globe. Henry has extensive experience in applied pedagogy and international education, and he is passionate about making the science behind conservation accessible to the public. He is currently working with the team to develop online training courses that make NatCap's approach and tools available to a wider audience. Henry holds a B.F.A. from Carnegie Mellon University and an M.F.A. from Florida International University. Before joining the project, he co-founded the O, Miami international poetry festival.

Shan Ma, PhD


Shan Ma is part of the team that adapted and applied InVEST at three Department of Defense demonstration sites to inform their resource management and land-use policy. In particular, she led the valuation of different ecosystem services of interest at the installations. Her research interests lie in non-market valuation of ecosystem services and its implications for real-world policy. Shan Ma earned her Ph.D. and M.S in agricultural, food and resource economics from Michigan State University, and a bachelor's degree in environmental economics and management from Renmin University of China. Shan Ma was a Mirzayan Science Policy Fellow with the Board on Agricultural and Natural Resources at the National Academies before joining the Natural Capital Project.

Brad Eichelberger

GIS Analyst

Brad Eichelberger is part of a team that adapted and applied InVEST at three Department of Defense demonstration sites to inform their resource management and land-use policy. He altered existing InVEST tools to meet the land manager's goals. He has also worked closely with the hydrology team to develop the freshwater InVEST models. Prior to joining the Natural Capital Project, he was an ecologist with the Natural Heritage Program in Pennsylvania and conducted research on rare species and associated habitat. Brad earned his M.S in applied ecology and conservation biology and a B.S. in biology from Frostburg State University and has received ESRI's Special Achievements in GIS award for his previous work.

Gregg Verutes

Geographer and Science Education Lead

Gregg Verutes leads NatCap's training program which hosts both introductory and technical workshops throughout the world. His current focus is developing innovative techniques that utilize maps, games, and problem-based exercises to teach students, scientists and practitioners about valuing nature. Gregg also serves as a GIS specialist for the marine team working on coastal zone management and spatial planning in Belize, Vietnam and the Americas. He worked previously for National Geographic as a GIS instructor and a visiting scientist with the World Wildlife Fund's Conservation Science Program. Gregg received his M.S. from San Diego State University and his B.S. in Policy Analysis and Management from Cornell University.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to complete all the modules in the course?

While the lessons contained in each of the five modules are intended to stand alone, we strongly encourage all participants to begin by reading through the Course Roadmap. This section explains how the course is organized and provides important background information about the case studies included throughout. To launch the Course Roadmap, click the "Start here" button on the top-left panel of the Courseware.

Do you offer a Statement of Accomplishment for completing the course?

The course is structured to provide two levels of accomplishment. Students completing only Modules 1-3 will be provided with a Statement of Accomplishment for Intro to Ecosystem Services. Students who complete Modules 1 through 5 (including the assessment exercise) will receive a Statement of Accomplishment in Ecosystem Services and Applications.

Do I need to buy a textbook?

This course is completely free. Links to download all the necessary course materials and tools are provided within each unit.

How long should it take to complete this course?

The course is divided into five modules. It should take approximately one hour to finish each module and about five hours to complete the entire course.

What is the best way to ask questions or provide feedback?

Click on the "Discussion" tab to link to our online user forum. This forum is monitored daily by our software engineers and scientists.

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