Why Estimate Ecosystem Values?
Faced with tightening budgets and growing needs for environmental actions, government agencies must make difficult decisions about how to allocate public investments to protect and restore the natural environment. In making such decisions, environmental program managers may consider many objectives, including environmental quality, threats to ecosystem integrity, and effects on people’s quality of life. This website will help those who need to make practical use of economics for these types of decisions.
Agencies must justify their decisions, not only in terms of benefits to the natural environment but also in terms of fiscal accountability and public support. Thus, they are being asked to demonstrate the economic benefits of their investments, preferably in dollar terms. However, even if it is impossible or impractical to measure benefits in dollars, agency staff can often provide evidence that their environmental investments are being managed to maximize environmental benefits per dollar spent. This site deals with both types of benefit estimation.
For some decisions, such as those involving endangered species or serious public health or safety concerns, economic considerations will be secondary. However, even in these situations, environmental managers will need to make decisions that involve tradeoffs or allocations of natural resources—decisions that call for economic analysis.
Why are estimates of ecosystem benefits needed?
- To justify and decide how to allocate public spending on conservation, preservation, or restoration initiatives.
- To consider the public’s values, and encourage public participation and support for environmental initiatives.
- To compare the benefits of different projects or programs.
- To prioritize conservation or restoration projects.
- To maximize the environmental benefits per dollar spent.
Finding Appropriate and Practical Answers
The economic benefits of government spending raise legitimate and important public policy questions, but the answers are often ambiguous and difficult to justify. Agency staff may not always be able to provide acceptable answers – no matter how much money they spend on analysis. However, in the absence of objectively determined estimates of the benefits of environmental programs, spending decisions will be based on other factors.