Many people may not realize it, but forests—including family forests—provide a variety of benefits related to the regulation of natural processes. For example, forests are involved in influencing weather patterns, controlling the flow of water, and reducing impacts of natural disasters.
Forests provide the following natural process regulation services (adapted from Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005):
A group of researchers estimated the economic value of several natural process regulation ecosystem services (Costanza et al. 1994). The researchers found that temperate forests provide $36 per acre per year in climate regulation, $35 per acre per year in waste treatment, and $2 per acre per year in pest/disease control.
Water quality is one of the most valuable benefits provided by the regulating services of forests. One study showed that every 10 percent increase in forest cover in a watershed reduces the cost of treating water for human consumption by about 20 percent (Ernst et al. 2004). New York City capitalizes on this ecosystem service by paying landowners in the Catskills $150 million per year to protect forests within its watershed rather than building a new water treatment facility that would cost up to $6 billion up front and $300 million per year to operate (Postel and Thompson 2005). Water quality also affects aquatic wildlife and fishing industries. The avoidance or removal of nitrogen in the tributaries of the Mississippi River may be worth $10 to $45 per pound (Ribaudo et al. 2005); lowland forests in associated geographic areas may remove 63 pounds of nitrogen per acre per year (Murray et al. 2009).
Additionally, researchers have estimated that various forest species have substantial positive impacts on the economy. For instance, little brown bats provide pest control worth an estimated $23 billion dollars per year to the agricultural economy (Boyles et al. 2011). The value of pollination in the United States is estimated at $219 billion per year (Hein 2009). A significant portion of this ecosystem service is provided by wild insects that live in forest habitat.
It is clear that forests contribute directly and indirectly to the economy and to human well-being in many ways that do not involve buying and selling in the marketplace. Family forest landowners directly contribute to these benefits.
The following articles provide more information about the relationship of ecosystem services to family forests:
Greg Frey, Virginia State University
Boyles, J.G., P.M. Cryan, G.F. McCracken, and T.H. Kunz. 2011. Economic importance of bats in agriculture. Science 332: 41-42.
Colfer, C.J.P., D. Sheil, and M. Kishi. 2006. Forests and human health: assessing the evidence. Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Occasional Paper No. 45. Bogor, Indonesia.
Costanza, R., R. d’Arge, R. de Groot, S. Farber, M. Grasso, B. Hannon, K. Limburg, S. Naeem, R.V. O’Neill, J. Paruelo, R.G. Raskin, P. Sutton, and M. van den Belt. 1994. The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature 387: 253-260.
Epstein, P.R. 1997 Climate, Ecology and Human Health. Consequences: The Nature and Implications of Environmental Change 3(2).
Ernst, C., R. Gullick, and K. Nixon. 2004. Protecting the source: Conserving forests to protect water. American Water Works Association. Opflow 30(5): 1, 4-7.
Hein, L. 2009. The economic value of the pollination service, a review across scales. Open Ecology Journal 2: 74-82.
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DC.
Murray, B., A. Jenkins, R. Kramer, and S.P. Faulkner. 2009. Valuing ecosystem services from wetlands restoration in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University. Ecosystem Services Series NI R 09-02.
Nowak, D.J. 2004. The effects of urban trees on air quality. USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Syracuse, NY.
Postel, S.L. and B.H. Thompson, Jr. 2005. Watershed protection: Capturing the benefits of nature’s water supply services. Natural Resources Forum 29: 98-108.
Ribaudo, M.O., R. Heimlich, and M. Peters. 2005. Nitrogen sources and Gulf hypoxia: Potential for environmental credit trading. Ecological Economics 52: 159-168.
Smith, W. H. 1990. Air Pollution and Forests. Springer-Verlag, New York.