Travis Funk is a M.S. candidate concentrating on Forest Resource Economics and Policy in the Natural Resources Science and Management (NRSM) Program at the University of Minnesota. When he’s not writing his thesis or working, Travis enjoys being outdoors with his camera, running and biking, and playing Settlers of Catan with his wife and friends.
Forests provide a suite of ecosystem services that society benefits from, including the sequestering of carbon, timber and fiber production, nutrient cycling, water purification, wildlife habitat and biodiversity, as well as recreation and aesthetic experiences. Among the numerous public policy tools available to promote ecosystem services on forest lands in the United States, my research focuses on preferential property tax programs – which incentivize landowners to provide forest-related ecosystem services that might otherwise be lost if forest lands were converted to an alternative land use (e.g., residential, commercial).
In addition to being a measure of the value of property tax incentives available to participants of such programs, these estimates also represent one measure of value of ecosystem services provided by the nation’s private forest lands. The valuation of ecosystem services is a difficult and controversial task, and economists have often been criticized for trying to “put a price tag on nature.” However, state and federal agencies in charge of protecting and managing natural resources must often make difficult decisions that involve tradeoffs in allocating resources. These types of decisions have important economic implications and therefore are based, either explicitly or implicitly, on society’s values. Consequently, economic valuation can provide a useful way to justify and help set priorities for programs, policies, or actions that protect or restore forest-based ecosystems and their services. It is worth stating that the goal of my research is not an attempt to determine the value of forest-based ecosystem services in their entirety. Rather, the aim is to determine the expenditures states are willing to make for these property tax programs, as well as the annual financial benefits ($/acre) that private forest landowners receive in exchange for managing their forest lands for ecosystem services.
It is my hope that estimates of the annual per acre benefit that landowners receive and program enrollment data will assist state-level decision makers in determining program efficacy, and help identify areas for program improvement (e.g., increase participation rates, provide more attractive incentives, adjustment or elimination of certain eligibility requirements – such as minimum/maximum acreage).