Payments for forest-based ecosystem services in the United States: Magnitudes and trends


This manuscript reports on an effort to account, estimate, and document, to the fullest extent possible, direct payments for ecosystem services to private forest landowners in the United States. This includes paymentsderived from markets, subsidies, and hybrid approaches, from both governmental and non-governmental sources. Data were compiled from government agencies, public registries, and surveys of market participants. In some cases full reporting of program/market payments and forest area enrolled was possible. In other cases estimation was necessary, including averaging and interpolation by state and year, to create a conservative and comprehensive understanding of the nature, magnitude, and trends of programs and markets that provide payments for forest-based ecosystem services (PFES). Programs and markets were classified by categories of ecosystem services supported (carbon sequestration and storage, water quality and watershed protection, wildlife habitat, and bundled services), as well as payment mechanism (public payments, compliance transactions, and voluntary transactions). Findings show that estimated total PFES averaged $3.3 billion per year (2015 dollars), or about $17.69 per hectare of private forest per year over the decade 2010–19. This includes an average of $176 million per year for carbon, $889 million per year for water, $1529 million per year for wildlife habitat and $754 million per year for bundled services. Hunting leases in particular are the largest payment source for private forest landowners, and have grown substantially up to $1.6 billion in 2016. At the same time, compliance and voluntary markets for carbon and water have also grown. In particular, the establishment of a market for carbon offsets within California’s cap-and-trade program has increased the size of forest carbon offset markets by two orders of magnitude from $3 million in 2010 to $326 million in 2019. However, public programs connected to PFES have steadily decreased in real dollar terms over time, as has participating land area. Various states and regions in the U.S. have higher or lower level of PFES connected to different service categories, for various apparent reasons. Results suggest that some small, highly-urban states received high levels of payments for conservation easements. Other states with a large agricultural land base relative to forestry received relatively high levels of public conservation program payments. Some states with both large private forest area and large urban centers had high values of payments for recreational access, such as hunting and wildlife viewing.

  • Citation: Frey, Gregory E.; Kallayanamitra, Chalisa; Wilkens, Philadelphia; James, Natasha A. 2021. Payments for forest-based ecosystem services in the United States: Magnitudes and trends. Ecosystem Services. 52(1): 101377-.
  • Keywords: Cost-sharing ,Voluntary financial incentive programs, Offset credit trading , Mitigation banking Conservation easement
  • Posted Date: November 15, 2021
  • Modified Date: November 15, 2021
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