El Paso’s abundant natural capital is a critical part of the regional ecosystem and the economy. The shrublands surrounding the Franklin Mountains support rich biodiversity, capture water for the Hueco Bolson aquifer, and provide many other ecosystem benefits, from erosion control to moderation of flood events. El Paso’s natural capital also provides direct benefits to local residents, including increased property values and improved health via recreation. All of these benefits are called ecosystem services, and they represent significant, long-term contributions to the local economy. This is the first study to estimate the dollar value associated with these critical ecosystem services within El Paso.
Across the country, planners and policy makers are starting to include the value of natural capital assets (watersheds, forests, shrublands) and ecosystem services in their analyses. Though the techniques to identify, quantify, and monetize these economic contributions are still evolving, the values available today can immediately be used to gain a better understanding of the symbiotic relationship between a healthy environment, a resilient economy, and a thriving community. Including these values in planning and policy-making yields a more complete and accurate understanding of restoration and stewardship projects or policies and ultimately fosters more practical, cost-effective outcomes.
This analysis finds that the natural capital within the study area contributes $3.4 million to $6.7 million in ecosystem service benefits each year. El Paso’s shrubland can also be viewed as a natural capital asset that provides a flow of benefits over time, similar to a building or a bridge. When measured like an asset with a lifespan of 100 years and a three percent discount rate, El Paso’s natural capital has an asset value between $107 million and $211 million. With sufficient stewardship to maintain the health and function of El Paso’s natural capital, this economic contribution will continue in perpetuity. These are highly conservative estimates that will grow as more detailed data becomes available and economic methods are developed.