Today, Iíve been invited to step in as guest blogger and talk with you about valuation and natural resource planningÖtwo areas I spend a great deal of time working on and thinking about. The last blog took you through various approaches underpinning economic valuation. Now, Iím going to take you a bit further down that road to discuss how we can use economic and other valuation approaches to plan for and make best use of the important ecosystem services our natural resources provide.
To do that, we have to think about location. Location matters in so many different ways. As an example, consider what factors influence the price of a house. Certainly, a four-bedroom house on a large lot will sell for a higher price than a smaller home on a lot half the sizeÖas long as we are looking within the same neighborhood. But take those same houses, put them in different neighborhoods and the game changes. Proximity to other features has much more influence on selling price than the physical features of the home. Being within a good school district, in a low crime area, near mass transit, close to shopping, entertainment options and green space, and sitting within a neighborhood where other homeowners take care of their property all contribute in positive ways to the value of a home.
That makes perfect sense in the real estate world. Similar relationships of location and proximity apply in the natural world. At Marylandís Department of Natural Resources, we evaluate these relationships to assign an ecological value to specific natural resources that occur in geographically distinct places and are found close to other important natural resources. We also look at how rare or unique a resource is and use that as an additional measure of value.
Letís think about forests for a moment. The Genuine Progress Indicator tells us that there are about 2.5 million acres of forest across the State. Marylandís Strategic Forest Lands Assessment evaluated how these forests are distributed and found that most of these forests occur in small isolated patches less than 50 acres in size while much fewer are found in conditions like the floodplain forest shown below.
We also know that certain Forest Interior Dependent Species (FIDS), such as the Scarlet Tanager, require large, unbroken blocks of forest habitat of at least 50 acres in size to survive, and that their numbers are declining because of habitat loss.
When forests occur in river floodplains, stream valleys and along Chesapeake and Coastal Bay shorelines, they protect communities and property from flooding associated with extreme storm events and are the most inexpensive and most effective way to keep stream, river and bay waters clean. Unlike paved surfaces or suburban lawns, forested land encourages more rainwater to percolate into the soil rather than running off the surface and carrying harmful pollution and sediment into streams. In certain locations, the increased infiltration of rainwater is critical for providing adequate amounts of clean drinking water to growing communities. Enhanced infiltration is also important for keeping streams and rivers healthy enough to support economically important fisheries and biologically diverse aquatic communities.
This type of information, coupled with over 30 years of resource assessment monitoring and the scientific expertise of many biologists at DNR, forms the basis for Marylandís GreenPrint program. GreenPrint is a strategic conservation planning tool that uses the science of ecological valuation to prioritize where the State should focus its limited conservation funding available through Program Open Space. GreenPrint identifies on a map where the Stateís most ecologically valuable areas are found and shows, through clearly defined measures, how Marylandís land conservation programs are working to conserve these high value areas.
So how does economic valuation fit into this picture? This is the next horizon for value based planning and gives us a great opportunity to place the ecosystem service benefits provided by our natural capital alongside other decisions that are informed by economic data. Marylandís Partners for Open Space offer some compelling economic reasons for conserving land. Did you know that tourism and ecotourism is the third leading industry in Maryland? Over $600 million each year in jobs and revenue are generated by outdoor recreation. Over 40,000 jobs in Maryland are supported by forests and generate over $38 million annually in State and local taxes. The National Park Service estimates that property values increase from 5 to 32% for land adjacent to trails and greenways. Rather than building new infrastructure to reduce water pollution and yield safe drinking water, watershed protection can be less expensive and provide additional ecosystem service benefits.
These economic benefits are dependent on healthy natural resources occurring in the right places and we can begin to calculate how this plays out in an economic framework. Using valuation, in both an economic sense and through other valuation approaches, gives us a set of tools and a broader point of view to make the kinds of planning decisions that make good economic sense and achieves our goals for quality of life and a healthy environment.
Guest Author: Christine Conn
Office for a Sustainable Future, DNR
Previous questions and dialogue available below.
- Happiness is Oppressive?
- Location Matters
- Valuation Part II: How We Quantify Full Value
- New Interactive Tools at MD-GPI
- Beyond GDP: Year in Review
- Triple Bottom Line
- DYI GPI: So You Want to be a Czar?
- How Much are Those French Hens?
- The End Game: Happiness & Well Being
- Giving Something Back: Your Time
- Meet the Elephant: Valuation
- Income Inequality & its Effects on the MD-GPI
- The Case for New Measures of Growth & Prosperity
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