What Are Our County’s Wetlands Worth?


gator denslow In: What Are Our County’s Wetlands Worth? | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida*

In an ideal world, the water management districts would take charge. But in our world Gov. Rick Scott’s appointment of anti-regulation zealots to their boards renders them useless.

Dave Denslow discusses in the Gainesville Sun the recent action by Alachua County  in deciding to extend the wetlands protection to the entire county.  This action met with scattered opposition, but clearly the people of Alachua County approved.

The opening quote from Dr. Denslow reflects a common judgement of our water managing boards, which have lost the respect and trust of the public.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-

Dave Denslow: What are our county’s wetlands worth?

Posted Feb 2, 2018 at 12:01 AM Updated Feb 2, 2018 at 1:10 PM

At the Alachua County Commission hearing to decide how much authority over wetlands to preempt from the municipalities, Commissioner Robert Hutchinson asked if the county’s wetland acreage has been rising or falling. The staff’s answer was that they had not “done statistical analysis to determine what’s going on.”

Let that response sink in. Staff, with a stringent budget, does what the commission directs the county manager to prioritize. Yet it appears that no one has tracked what has happened to wetlands over the past 25 years during which the county has been responsible for them. Such a history could help guide decisions. For example, has the county been better or worse at preserving wetlands than the municipalities?

A history of the recent past is feasible. Investigative reporters Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite, in their book “Paving Paradise: Florida’s Vanishing Wetlands,” tell how they combined national and state maps of wetlands with their own analysis of satellite data to create maps for Florida in “the late 1980s and 2003.” We might be able to use those maps.

Charles Lane and others in the journal Wetlands, in September 2006, reported 95 percent accuracy in mapping wetlands larger than two acres in a large portion of Alachua County. An article in the December 2017 issue of Wetlands, noting the consensus that wetlands management must be up-to-date and dynamic as the climate changes, illustrates improved monitoring technology that uses satellite data.

Although in a charter referendum in 2000, majorities of voters in High Springs, Newberry and Hawthorne opposed turning control over to the county, 70 percent of all voters countywide approved. Independently of that, it is reasonable for the county to take charge. The services of wetlands, from water purification and retention through biological diversity and human enjoyment, extend beyond local boundaries

In an ideal world, the water management districts would take charge. But in our world Gov. Rick Scott’s appointment of anti-regulation zealots to their boards renders them useless.

What are our county’s wetlands worth? A discussion among commissioners and staff at the recent hearing provides a data point for a revealed preference approach to that question. What are people willing to pay? “Paving Paradise” highlights how hiring too few people to monitor wetlands resulted in destroying thousands and thousands of acres. I believe, though the book provides no estimate, that each extra person hired would have saved at least 20 acres a year, and probably more.

Our county commissioners discussed at length whether to hire an additional person at a total cost of $70,000 a year. That suggests that they value saving wetlands at $3,500 an acre at most. Wetland acreage could also be increased by taxing water use heavily to encourage conservation, thus raising surficial water tables. But that’s beyond the pale, which implies a value of zero.

Taking county regulations literally, however, suggests the commissioners attach an extraordinarily high value (infinity?) when job creators bear the cost. The true value lies in between. From published measures of wetlands’ total economic values — the word “total” means including non-monetary benefits such as species preservation — my crude guess is $80,000 an acre.

Back in 2005, the National Academy of Sciences, whose opinions most of us respect, formed a committee of ecologists, economists and philosophers, all experts in valuing ecosystem services. Their list of recommendations includes evaluate trade-offs, measure changes in wetlands services (not the value of the entire system), quantify (don’t just list services), and use a total economic value framework.

Will Alachua County manage its wetlands dynamically, as climate changes, with sufficient personnel and guided by science? That’s the crucial question.

Dave Denslow is a retired University of Florida economics professor.

*photo by Brad McClenny, Sun staff photographer

1 Comment

  1. I don’t know what trick rickey has up his sleeve But be aware of this thing!! This is his last run for gov. BUT rumors has it he will still be in POLITICS. PLEASE don’t forget the ruination he has played out already for Florida with that stupid smile he has cemented on his face. Please don’t elect him for anything not even dog catcher personally I have no use for him or his cronies. REMEMBER

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