Announcing New Statewide Assessment: Investing Dollars in Texas Ecosystem Services | by Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute | Land Trends | November 2022

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Lady Bird Johnson had a sense of words that still resonates today with Texans from all walks of life. His work to encourage the conservation and use of native plants to restore and create sustainable landscapes has brought to life so many of his views on the natural environment. During a speech at Yale University in 1967, she said, “The environment is where we all meet, where we all have a mutual interest; it’s the one thing we all share.

As we consider his words, we maintain this ecological belief in supporting our environment and focusing on the more critical responsibilities we have to steward Texas’ diverse landscapes that provide vital goods and services that benefit all. Considered the “commodities of nature”, these ecosystem services are the set of functions beneficial to human well-being, encompassing many vital outputs such as climate regulation, air purification and pollination. Many of these ecosystem services are traditionally thought of as shared, free to society, and often overlooked, such as the clean air, clean water, and flood control provided by healthy forest, rangeland, and wetland ecosystems.

Although they are an important component of natural landscapes, as well as our daily quality of life, ecosystem services generally lack formal market structures, and their associated benefits are difficult to quantify or appropriately value on paper while we weigh the benefits and costs of growth and expansion and consider the challenges related to natural resources. How do you assign a monetary value to the quality of air and water, for example? In some ways, these are arguably “invaluable,” but as a result their contributions and importance are often assumed or ignored by the general public, government leaders, and those involved in decision-making on health issues. land use. We set out to level that field, so to speak.

Promoting the sustainability and long-term management of natural resources begins with a basic understanding of ecosystem services and their public benefits. Ideally, the ability to assign a monetary value can illustrate the importance of their fundamental contributions to society. Such analysis can be used to support land conservation strategies and policies to promote the conservation of open spaces and natural resources. Thus, the objectives of this evaluation are to:

  1. provide examples of general ecosystem services, and
  2. estimate their relative economic value or the level of current investment to maintain their benefits.

We are grateful for the insights and support of the Texas Agricultural Land Trust and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as we could not have completed this assessment without their day-to-day commitment to land and natural resource management in Texas.

As a benchmark for our work to promote the benefits and costs of ecosystem services, we assign a collective value in the assessment for four categories of ecosystem services to include: provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting services , each uniquely defined for its attributes such as tangible goods. , ecosystem processes, intangible benefits and ecological functions.

In the report, we cover in detail the methodologies used to assign dollar values ​​based on market-based estimates the Texas Comptroller of the Public Accounts and the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), if applicable, and willingness to pay estimates federal conservation programs established at the field or operational level through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Market-based valuations use current financial mechanisms to calculate the market value of an ecosystem service. For example, food and fiber production are tangible products that are already included in a traditional market system where people regularly buy and sell these goods and services. Existing data can tell us the value of a culture and its contribution to our market economy. Market-based estimates use this existing data – what we know we are already paying for – to assign values ​​to ecosystem services. In contrast, a willingness to pay model uses the maximum value a consumer is willing to pay for a given good or service. For the purposes of this study, we used government payments to federal landowner incentive programs to determine the level of investment by federal government programs to conserve or protect previously identified ecosystem services in Texas.

For each ecosystem service category, the report summarizes all values ​​to arrive at a total ecosystem service value for all of Texas.

Total annual value of ecosystem services ($/acre/year) by county in Texas.

The report also includes maps for every category, from food and fiber production to flood mitigation and non-consumptive recreation, revealing trends that will ultimately provide clarity to policy makers, conservation and land managers who can better understand the overall economic and ecological picture. benefit Texas receives from vital lands in the open – and the cost of continuing to neglect their natural contribution to society.

Looking back, we can now definitively ask ourselves what the cost of losing land in Texas is. Based on these conservative results, that’s about $629 per acre, or if you consider that we’re losing about 640 acres a day to land conversion, that’s about $146,934,400 a year in value ecosystem services. It’s the price we pay, which climbs every year as we convert more land to accommodate Texas’ growing population. Ultimately, we need to keep farmers, ranchers, forest owners – land stewards – on the land to grow food, conserve water, and preserve wildlife habitat. Their work provides the environment where we all meet, where we all have a mutual interest, and which provides benefits that we all share.

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