GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It might appear that the only people who profit from Florida’s forests are landowners, but a new University of Florida study says the trees provide valuable services to land users and people in surrounding communities.
As forests grow, they filter water, store carbon and perform other helpful functions that are known collectively as ecosystem services. These services are often overlooked by the public but UF researchers found a way to estimate their dollar value, which can exceed $5,000 per acre over 20 years.
Results from the two-year study, called the Stewardship Ecosystem Services Survey Project, were just published at http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/cfeor/SESS.html
Researchers hope the report increases awareness of the benefits of forestland and the opportunities that exist for Florida landowners, said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
“This is a groundbreaking study for Florida, because it actually gets into the numbers,” Payne said. “It establishes dollar values for some—not all, but some—of the benefits that forests create for our residents and visitors.”
The study focused on four key ecosystem services—water quality, carbon storage, timber production and wildlife conservation. It also focused on forestland acreage enrolled in the Florida Forest Stewardship Program.
The voluntary state program helps landowners manage their forests for multiple uses, to increase its economic value and maintain its environmental quality. Those uses may include timber production, hunting, ecotourism or activity on the carbon credit market.
Currently, about 438,000 acres of forestland are included in the program, out of Florida’s total 34.7 million acres of land. The total value for the ecosystem services provided by those 438,000 acres is $2.07 billion, researchers found.
Forestlands enrolled in the program are likely to provide ecosystem services better than comparable unmanaged lands, said Tim White, director of UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation.
“The program is all about developing and implementing management plans based on the owners’ goals,” White said. “So it’s natural to expect that these forests would be doing very well, in terms of their growth and health.”
Founded in 1990, the Florida Forest Stewardship Program is a partnership among UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Florida Forest Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
The program is open to anyone who owns at least 20 acres of forested land and does not manufacture forest products or provide public utility services, said Chris Demers, UF forest stewardship coordinator.
In the study, UF/IFAS researchers used different models and data from investigations on residents’ “willingness to pay” to calculate the value of various ecosystem services, said Francisco Escobedo, principal investigator for the study.
The study results will be used to develop workshops, publications and other educational outreach materials aimed at showing non-industrial private landowners how they can best manage their forestland.
The results may also be useful to researchers in other fields, and to legislators, said Charlie Houder, executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District.
“From the perspective of the water management district, this study reaffirms the importance of water quality protection among the various ecosystem services provided by Florida’s forests,” Houder said.
Jeff Doran, executive vice president of the Florida Forestry Association, said the results may encourage other landowners to work at maximizing the ecosystem services provided by their forests, to add value to their properties.
“More market options will enhance the long-term likelihood of keeping forests in forest,” Doran said. “That is good for both our economy and environment.”
The study was funded by the Florida Forest Service and conducted in partnership with Conserved Forest Ecosystems: Outreach and Research, a cooperative comprised of private and public landowners and UF faculty members.
The report had 11 authors, nine from UF’s forest resources school, one from UF’s food and resource economics department, and one from The Nature Conservancy. Escobedo and the study’s three co-principal investigators also hailed from the UF forest resources school.
For more information on the Florida Forest Stewardship Program, see http://goo.gl/jRzic
Writer: Tom Nordlie, 352-273-3567, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Tim White, 352-846-0850, email@example.com