It’s relatively easy to put a dollar figure on how much a tree is worth when harvested for lumber, paper, or firewood. However, calculating a tree’s value when it’s still standing in the forest — providing shade on sunny days, creating a home environment for woodland animals and helping purify the air you breathe and the water you drink — presents more of a challenge
In a first-of-its-kind study for Texas conducted by researchers at Texas A&M Forest Service, it is estimated that Texas forests have an annual value of $93 billion, when taking into account such factors as climate regulation, air quality and cultural value.
The $93 billion figure was determined through the Texas Statewide Assessment of Forest Ecosystem Services, a compilation of the environmental benefits and their monetary value provided by Texas’ more than 60 million acres of forestland.
“Through this assessment, we hope to foster a greater awareness of the overall importance of forestlands,” says Forester Hughes Simpson, Program Coordinator of the Texas A&M Forest Service’s Water Resources program in a TAMU release. “Forests provide services that humans can’t live without.”
Forests play an important role in providing clean water. An estimated 80 percent of the nation’s freshwater resources originate from forests that cover about one-third of the United States. Forests provide several essential economic, social, and environmental functions in addition to supplying us with the cleanest water of any land use. They absorb rainfall, refill groundwater aquifers, slow and filter stormwater runoff, reduce floods, and maintain watershed stability and resilience.
In Texas, most of the state’s freshwater resources originate in the eastern counties, where forests and wetlands are a critical resource for supplying the state’s water needs. However, booming population growth is placing unprecedented demands on water resources across the state, making stewardship of water resources crucial to ensuring their sustainability for generations to come. Texas A&M Forest Service established the Water Resources Program to help protect, maintain, and enhance the quality and quantity of the State’s water resources.
As part of the Texas Statewide Assessment of Forest Ecosystem Services study, researchers looked at how Texas forests help regulate local climate, protect water resources, purify the air and improve wildlife habitats and species diversity, as well as surveying residents from across the state to better understand their thoughts and views regarding Texas forests.
“Cultural values are more esoteric. It’s the value people place on a forest for just being there and knowing it’s going to be there for their kids and grandkids,” Mr. Simpson observes, noting that it carried the highest monetary value. “They felt better just knowing that the forests were there, even if they never intended to visit a forest.”
The five core ecosystem services and their annual, statewide values are:
- Climate Regulation, $4.2 billion/year
Effect forests have on regional and local climates by absorbing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas.
- Watershed Regulation, $13.2 billion/year
Ability of the forests to provide a continuous, stable supply of clean drinking water through various hydrological processes (aquifer recharge, purification, flood and storm protection, etc.).
- Biodiversity Services, $14.8 billion/year
Capacity forests have to promote essential biological diversity and provide sustainable habitats for plants and animals.
- Cultural Services, $60.4 billion/year
Non-material benefits (spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection and aesthetic experience) obtained from forest ecosystems.
- Air Quality Services, $190.3 million/year
- Ability of forests to remove particulates and other pollutants from the air.
An online version of the study allows residents to see the ecosystem values for their specific location. Although this assessment looked only at forested, mostly-rural lands, Hughes Simpson says the agency soon will study the benefits provided by trees in urban areas, such as those that line parks and streets. He said the ultimate goal is to compile both surveys, giving the agency a better picture of the value of the benefits that trees and forests provide to Texas.
The Texas Forest Sector Economic Impact study notes that most of the timberland in Texas is located in the eastern part of the state. More than two-thirds of all forestry and logging companies and the great majority of the forest product companies in the state are found in this region. In 25 of the 43 East Texas counties, wood-based industries are one of the top two largest manufacturing employers.
The Economic Impacts of the Forest Sector in Texas, 2011 report notes that in that year the Texas forest sector had direct impact of $15.8 billion in industry output and employed over 60,000 people with a payroll of $3.5 billion. The state received around $4.9 billion directly from the forest sector through payroll, other employee compensation and property taxes. Including direct, indirect, and induced impacts, the forest sector had a total economic impact of $27.0 billion in industry output and supported more than 127,000 jobs with a payroll of $6.9 billion.
Every job created in the sector resulted in another 1.13 jobs in the state. Every dollar generated in the sector contributed an additional 70 cents to the rest of the Texas economy.
The value of timber ranked ninth among Texas top agricultural commodities after cattle, cotton, milk, broilers, greenhouse and nursery, corn, wheat, and eggs in 2011.
The website offers an interactive tool to summarize economic impacts of the forest sector in East Texas for 2007 and 2009. The tool allows users to display economic impacts of a selected set of counties. In addition, thematic maps and two-year trends for these counties. Likewise, statewide economic impacts of forest-related industries during 2007-2011 and the impacts of the recent economic downturn are analyzed.
Pre-prepared reports for both years – 2007 and 2009 – can be downloaded for individual East Texas counties, East Texas and the entire state. Reports for 2009 for each of the Texas Senate districts are also available for download.
A highlights page shows selected facts on the economic impact of the forest sector in Texas in 2009.
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