US Long-Term Ecological Research Network
Economic valuation of freshwater ecosystem services in the United States: 1971-1997
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The purpose of this paper is to provide ecologists and resource managers with a sense of where the economic science of ecosystem valuation has come from and where it might go in the future. To accomplish this, the paper provides a comprehensive synthesis of peer-reviewed economic data on surface freshwater ecosystems in the United States and examines major accomplishments and gaps in the literature. Economic value has been assigned to nonmarket goods and services provided by surface freshwater systems in the United States by 30 published, refereed articles in the scientific literature from 1971 to 1997. These studies have used variations of three approaches for a quantitative assessment of economic value: travel cost methods, hedonic pricing methods, and contingent valuation methods. To determine the economic value of nonmarket ecosystem goods and services, each method focuses on a different aspect of social benefit associated with lakes, streams, rivers, and wetlands. Valuation methodologies work from different underlying assumptions while possessing unique limitations and uncertainties. Dollar benefit estimates derived for nonmarket freshwater ecosystem goods and services from these studies tend to be specific to a particular method, ecosystem, and socioeconomic circumstance. Creative interdisciplinary research is needed on the quantitative measurement of surface freshwater ecosystem goods and service values, the relation of these values to key limnological variates, and communication of limnological insights to the public and social scientists in ways that facilitate and improve future management and research.