COLLEGE STATION, Oct. 9, 2013 − It’s easy to figure out how much a tree is worth when it is harvested for lumber, paper or firewood. But what about when it’s still standing tall in the forest, providing shade on sunny days, giving homes to woodland animals and helping clean the air you breathe and the water you drink?
Just how much is that worth?
Almost $93 billion each year, according to a first-of-its-kind study for Texas conducted by Texas A&M Forest Service.
The figure was derived through the Texas Statewide Assessment of Forest Ecosystem Services, a compilation of the environmental benefits and their monetary value provided by Texas’ more than 60 million acres of forestland.
“Through this assessment, we hope to foster a greater awareness of the overall importance of forestlands,” said Forester Hughes Simpson, who coordinates the Texas A&M Forest Service’s Water Resources program. “Forests provide services that humans can’t live without.”
As part of the study, researchers looked at how Texas forests help regulate local climate, protect water resources, purify the air and improve wildlife habitats and species diversity. They also surveyed residents from across the state to better understand their thoughts and views of Texas forests.
“Cultural values are more esoteric. It’s the value people place on a forest for just being there and knowing it’s going to be there for their kids and grandkids,” Simpson said, noting that it carried the highest monetary value. “They felt better just knowing that the forests were there, even if they never intended to visit a forest.”
The five core ecosystem services and their annual, statewide values are:
• Climate Regulation, $4.2 billion/year: Effect forests have on regional and local climates by absorbing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas.
• Watershed Regulation, $13.2 billion/year: Ability of the forests to provide a continuous, stable supply of clean drinking water through various hydrological processes (aquifer recharge, purification, flood and storm protection, etc.).
• Biodiversity Services, $14.8 billion/year: Capacity forests have to promote essential biological diversity and provide sustainable habitats for plants and animals.
• Cultural Services, $60.4 billion/year: Non-material benefits (spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection and aesthetic experience) obtained from forest ecosystems.
• Air Quality Services, $190.3 million/year: Ability of forests to remove particulates and other pollutants from the air.
The online version of the study — found at TexasForestInfo.com — allows residents to see the ecosystem values for their specific location.
Though this assessment looked only at forested, mostly-rural lands, Simpson said the agency soon will study the benefits provided by trees in urban areas, such as those that line parks and streets. He said the ultimate goal is to compile both surveys, giving the agency a better picture of the value of the benefits that trees and forests provide to Texas.