Ascribing value to ecological processes: an economic view of environmental change
Decisions made by individual landowners and public land managers can have a significant impact on the rates of ecological change. Interdisciplinary cooperation is desirable if economists and ecologists are to correctly interpret the impacts of individual choices for landscape management. This paper reports results from two studies of the residents of North Carolina which contrast individual preferences for utilitarian forest benefits and financial returns with less tangible benefits of forest amenities and ecosystem stability. One study reports preliminary findings from a forest-benefit mail survey on the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests; the second study presents an analysis of harvest decisions by private landowners. Economic methods pertinent to valuation of environmental goods are briefly considered. Individual behavior is described which suggests that segments of the public recognize welfare benefits specifically from forest amenities, and from "natural" production of environmental goods and services. The two studies suggest how economic tools may be extended to help quantify complex social and biological values associated with ecological processes.