Sustaining Natural Capital
Image Credit: USDA Forest Service Fisheries Program
Dr. Robert Tjaden is conducting research designed to test the receptiveness of private landowners in Maryland US, to receiving payments for producing public goods from ecosystem services.
To begin, can you summarise your primary research interests and goals?
My overall research interests are in environmental policy relating to forest management and tax policy, ecosystem services and social attitudes towards environmental and natural resource management. My goal is to assist in the development of reasonable policies to help forest industry, forest landowners and agricultural producers of Maryland be profitable and sustainable while still protecting or enhancing the valuable resources of Chesapeake Bay. Currently, I determine information to assist policy formulation for a Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) programme in Maryland.
What are the main motivations behind this project?
There has been much discussion, both locally and nationally, about ecosystem services and programmes designed to pay landowners for the production of these services. More specifically, there have been discussions to include PES in the new Farm Bill and many states, including Maryland, are trying to establish a nutrient trading programme. It is assumed landowners understand the topic of ecosystem services and will participate in payment programmes. Those assumptions were not based on any scientific evidence, hence this project.
Can you explain what you mean by ‘ecosystem services’?
Our world produces many natural resources that provide the foundation for all life on Earth – clean water, the air we breathe and pollination of crops, for example. These services are, by and large, provided by forest and agricultural lands. With the majority in private ownership, it is imperative that they are managed to enhance their ecosystem services and that incentives, public and private, are in place to encourage their owners to do so.
How do you go about trying to put an accurate economic value on ecosystem services?
This is the big question! There is no easy answer or approach. The problem is that most of these services are public goods produced on private lands with no established markets. Thus it is difficult to determine their value. However there are techniques, such as asking people their willingness to pay for these services or estimating their replacement value, just to name a few.
Why did you choose to pursue a socioeconomic approach?
The valuation of ecosystem services is a social, economic and environmental issue. It transcends many disciplines and is a very complex topic. This suggests a socioeconomic approach. Within the study of ecosystem services, there are several socioeconomic approaches to assist with determining value and willingness to participate in programmes. Some of these are contingent valuation (CV) or conjoint choice-type surveys. The CV survey asks the person to make a choice contingent on a given dollar value, whereas the conjoint choice-type survey asks similar questions, but requires the person to make choices based on several different but similar scenarios. It forces the person to make a single selection or choice based on several factors, such as contract length and payment rate.
What types of activities would PES be used for?
Activities could include management practices put in place to establish, maintain or enhance: habitats for threatened or endangered wildlife species and/or pollinators; forest land for water quality and quantity; forest land to sequester carbon; wetlands for flood control, water quality and wildlife habitats; and riparian buffers to shade streams, decrease water temperatures and encourage trout or salmon fisheries.
Would PES implementation pose any challenges?
Yes, there would be challenges, such as: who pays for the services and where does the money come from? If a landowner is to be paid for a service, what is payment based upon, is there a standard rate or is it based upon land/ habitat richness? Are the payments taxable, and how will these land management practices be monitored or verified? We have ideas about how such challenges could be managed.
Could you outline some of your key findings?
Our basic finding is a lack of understanding of and familiarity with the concept of ecosystem services; the most important factor in rejecting participation in a PES programme is lack of information, which suggests that educational programmes are needed. Other key findings include: Tree Farmers are more likely than agricultural landowners to participate in a PES programme; shorter contract lengths are preferred; higher payments increase participation; farmers prefer programmes administered by NGOs, while Tree Farmers prefer state and federal administration; compared to agricultural landowners. Tree Farmers with a higher percentage of off-farm income are more willing to participate; and it is difficult to encourage participation in agricultural landowners with a strong bias against conservation projects.
What do you hope to achieve next?
I shall present my findings to key policy makers and organisations, with the goal
of influencing the development of a PES program in Maryland. I shall also apply for additional funds to survey Maryland citizens to determine their willingness to pay for ecosystem services and test for different payment systems.
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