07.25.17 | By Cyrus Philbrick

It's easy to take national forests for granted. Many city-dwellers think about forests only on weekend excursions – when hiking, biking, or skiing. Besides acting as our playgrounds, what else do national forests do for us? Earth Economics is helping to shed light on the subject.

In partnership with The Wilderness Society, Earth Economics is conducting an economic analysis of the many benefits provided by Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. According to Johnny Mojica, Earth Economics Research Lead, the analysis will look at both conventional economic benefits as well as the benefits of ecosystem services that conventional economic analysis tends to ignore. 

"We're looking at how recreation expenditures impact the region’s economy, particularly gateway communities, or those towns near forest access points,” Mojica said. "And we're also digging into the many ways the forest’s natural capital works to support urban populations – providing clean drinking water, scenic beauty, and educational opportunities."

Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest forms a large part of what the Bullitt Foundation is calling the Emerald Corridor, the stretch of green running from Vancouver, BC, to Portland, OR, bounded on the east by the Cascade Mountains. Due to Mount-Baker Snoqualmie's proximity to urban populations, it's one of the most accessible forests within the country. According to Michael Schlafmann, a Public Services Staff Officer with the National Forest, "It's three million acres of wilderness within one hundred miles of about four million people."

Schlafmann is excited to see not only numbers attached to the forest's recreational draw, but also an analysis of some of the forest's indirect benefits, namely the clean water it provides to so many people. "When looking at the value of national forests we've tended to look at direct benefits – the timber, minerals, and hydropower – the things that are most easily monetized," Schlafmann said. "But thinking back to the origins of the national forest and why it was initially formed, it was really all about water. But water hasn't really been valued appropriately to this day. Most of our water in the west originates in our national forests."

Indeed, the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, which established the country's first national forest reserves, had two primary purposes: to preserve the nation's timber supply from over-exploitation, and to protect watersheds from erosion and flooding. By revealing the values of the forest's indirect benefits – like storing, filtering, and transporting clean water – Earth Economics' analysis will help clarify modern connections between urban populations and their supporting ecosystems.

Kitty Craig of The Wilderness Society sees making such connections as crucial to engaging urban support for protecting public land. "We need to engage new communities in caring for and knowing about the land beyond recreation," Craig said. "There's a lot of value in learning about what other services our forests provide, and in making connections between the Cascades and urban areas, in learning how the 'Big Green' of the Cascades contributes to the vitality of urban communities."

 

Photo Credit: Jeff Gunn via Flickr