Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How much is Bellingham Bay Worth?

Our economy and society could not exist without the valuable, practical and measurable functions performed by nature. Increasingly, growth managment and planning experts contend that the value of an ecosystem must be considered when human activity encroaches on natural capital.

How does one go about assigning an economic value to an ecosystem? The state of New Jersey conducted a study in 2007 that estimated an economic value of $9.4 billion per year for the state's freshwater wetlands and $1.2 billion per year for saltwater wetlands. That's per year...

"Valuable services provided by wetlands includes the buffering of floods, storm surges, and other events that threaten the public. These values were the services of water filtration and water supply for freshwater wetlands, and waste treatment for saltwater wetlands." They also provide habitat for salmon and other wildlife. A study in Portland Oregon revealed that surrounding property owners property values increased significantly when former wetlands were restored.

In regards to Marine ecosystems, New Jersey estimated that marine ecosystems provided the second-largest dollar amount of ecosystem services:"$5.3 billion per year for estuaries/tidal bays and about $390 million per year for other coastal waters, including the coastal shelf out to the 3-mile limit. Nutrient cycling (i.e., waste dilution and removal) was the most important service provided by marine ecosystems, worth $5.1 billion per year." http://www.state.nj.us/dep/dsr/naturalcap/nat-cap-overview.pdf

Locally, no one (not the City of Bellingham, Port, State or Tribes) has conducted an economic study of Bellingham Bay or Bellingham's waterfront to determine the highest or best use for these lands, (even though the former GP property and the bay is owned by the public).


During the 1990's, "thirteen economists, ecologists, and geographers studied 16 different biomes (ecological areas such as lakes, urban areas, and grasslands) to estimate the economic value of 17 ecosystem services.

To do this they assigned dollar values to services performed by nature that are considered necessary to the human economy. Their report, published in the journal Nature (May 1997), estimated that ecosystems perform at least $33 trillion worth of services annually. Marine systems contribute about 63 percent of the value, mainly from coastal systems ($10.6 trillion). Terrestrial systems account for 37 percent of the value, mainly from forests ($4.7 trillion) and wetlands ($4.9 trillion).

This total was 1.8 times the 1997 global gross national product of approximately $18 trillion. In other words the services performed by nature were 180 percent as valuable as all of humankind's economic activities."

"Lets repeat that number, the 1997 global gross national product of approximately $18 Trillion is 180% as valuable as all of humankind's economic activites."

It appears that it might be in our best interests as a community to put additional pressure on the Port, City and State to provide a clean up that enhances and restores our natural capital. (Water quality, habitat, fisheries, recreation and economic recovery for other depleted natural resources like beaches).

Which raises the question, what is the best or highest use of the area referred to as the ASB? Is the Port being honest with us when they tell us the best use of the ASB is a "Clean Water Marina?" Or, has the Port created a sophisticated public relations campaign to market a new Marina to the community?

Does anyone care? Probably not. It appears that in the public's mind, watching boats bob in the water is more economically important than the creation of clean beaches, healthy shellfish harvests and other essential marine functions that could generate millions of dollars of income locally. Unfortunately, the economic value of the bay has never been a part of the discussion.

The Port already has a large Marina and it could be easily retrofitted to absorb future boats.

Lake Whatcom Watershed:

The City of Bellingham is located next to the fifth largest lake in Washington. Lake Whatcom is an extrodinarily beautiful lake surrounded by steep hills, mountains and forests. Water from Lake Whatcom drains to Bellingham Bay via Whatcom Creek. It is also the primary drinking water source for over 80,000 Whatcom County residents.

A protracted battle has been taking place between property owners who live or own property in the Lake Whatcom Watershed and conservationists who argue that human activity is incompatible with the delivery of drinking water.

The result? Well, we certainly haven't made much progress in addressing the issue amidst all the finger pointing and name calling.

This year, the City is attempting to adopt ordinances to protect the lake from further deterioration. Great!

But if we sincerely hope to address water quality issues, we need the city, county, water district, state agencies and the property owners working together cooperatively. Regulations by themselves can never accomplish as much as a community that is working together to solve complex environmental issues. An army of one rarely wins the battle.

Ideally, land use regulations provide a flexible framework that allows property owners and regulators alike the ability to implement effective restoration, while allowing a certain amount of human activity and recreation within the watershed.

Next step - stop assigning blame to property owners. We need property owners to be part of the solution, rather than to repeatedly label them as part of the problem.

The battle over trees and development -- "Over 10,000 acres of forest lands were lost annually due to urban development in the Puget Sound between 1980 and 1990. These low-lying forests provided a valuable stormwater treatment system at no cost to taxpayers. Today, it is estimated to cost $15 to $150 per acre to comply with Phase II of the EPA process of stormwater regulation." That price increases proportionally with every acre of forest that is harvested or cleared to make way for additional development.

Washington has abundant forest resources. With proper management, we should be able to harvest timber, protect old growth forests and leave trees in place to protect our drinking water, without adversely affecting public school funding. http://www.eoearth.org/article/Ecosystems_services_in_Washington_state
Here's a short list of articles on natural resources and their economic value for individuals who are interested in studying this issue:

Depletion and Conservation of Natural Resources - The Role Of Forests And Habitat
Depletion and Conservation of Natural Resources - U.s. Forests Under Stress
Depletion and Conservation of Natural Resources - The Battle Over Public Lands
Depletion and Conservation of Natural Resources - Wetlands—fragile Ecosystems
Depletion and Conservation of Natural Resources - Mountains
Depletion and Conservation of Natural Resources - Erosion
Depletion and Conservation of Natural Resources - Irrigation
Depletion and Conservation of Natural Resources - Biodiversity
Depletion and Conservation of Natural Resources - Wildlife
Depletion and Conservation of Natural Resources - Minerals And Oil
Depletion and Conservation of Natural Resources - Seeking Global Solutions
Depletion and Conservation of Natural Resources - Public Opinion About Natural Resources

Reference documents for this post can be located here: http://www.libraryindex.com/pages/103/Depletion-Conservation-Natural-Resources.html">Depletion and Conservation of Natural Resources - The Economic Value Of The World's Ecosystems—how Much Is Nature Worth?, The Role Of Forests And Habitat

The Impact of Forest Management Practices on Watersheds: http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/value/docs/forest_practices_nonpoint_pollution.pdf

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