The state of Maine receives more than $14 billion each year in uncounted economic benefits from its natural environment, according to a Manomet study released Monday.
The study – “Valuing Maine’s Natural Capital” – was conducted in collaboration with Spatial Informatics Group, LLC. It examined the unrealized value of Maine’s natural resources and excluded products and services that are already traded on the marketplace such as lumber or lobster.
“We wanted to draw attention to the significant unrecognized value of Maine’s ecosystems,” said Senior Program Leader John Gunn. “Nature plays a huge role in our economy. When we make decisions in Maine, we need a better way to incorporate the value of natural resources.”
In 2011, Maine’s overall gross domestic product was $46 billion.
Determining the economic value of natural processes is a new and emerging science, and the report provides the most complete existing evaluation of the benefits provided by natural resources in Maine.
The report assessed the value of
1) Scenic beauty;
2) Disturbance regulation, like flood control provided by floodplains;
3) Atmospheric regulation, such as forest capacity to absorb greenhouse gases;
4) Wildlife habitat;
5) Nutrient regulation, such as wetlands’ ability to filter and prevent pollution
6) Pollination and seeding of crops and forests;
7) Recreation opportunities;
8) Maintenance of healthy soils; and
9) Water supply and regulation through groundwater recharge.
The most highly valued natural areas were those in close proximity to Maine’s urban and suburban areas, where scarce ecosystems and high population density lead to highly-valued open space.
Gunn pointed out that the natural environment provides benefits that might preclude more expensive consequences. For example, keeping forests intact is far cheaper than building water filtration plants or repairing flood damage after a tropical storm.
“We may never know the exact price of our natural resources,” said report author Austin Troy, of the Spatial Informatics Group. “But assigning some value to natural capital is clearly more accurate than assigning none, as is currently the norm.”
Though it is difficult to monetize the value of a natural area’s capacity for providing wildlife habitat or its scenic beauty, such valuations could ensure that these benefits are not taken for granted, according to Gunn. He said that placing dollar values on ecological benefits could give them value in decision-making and in the marketplace.
“Placing a monetary value on some aspect of an ecosystem can indirectly preserve the ecological, aesthetic, and spiritual value of a place,” the report said. “Otherwise, as history shows, we appraise the value of these natural services at zero, and nature is diminished because of it.
– Haley Jordan