Thurston County’s natural resources worth billions, study finds

Earth Economics: Nonprofit wants to do more precise follow-up

ckrotzer@theolympian.comNovember 19, 2012 

Thurston County’s natural resources are worth billions of dollars, according to a broad study by a Tacoma-based nonprofit.

Earth Economics’ “rapid ecosystem survey” looked at 14 categories, including the area’s forests, wetlands, prairies and shorelines.

“If you look at the dollar value, the benefits of nature’s gifts, like drinking water, protection, irrigation and storm prevention – these things are really crucial and worth a lot of money,” said David Batker, executive director of Earth Economics.

The eight-month survey, which was funded by a $20,000 contract with Thurston County, took a broad look at the county’s natural value.

Two numbers were produced in the study – one for the asset value of the area’s natural resources and the other for the yearly beneficial value.

The study put the benefit value between $608 million and $6.1 billion annually.

“If you took away the wetlands, the forests, you would take away those functions and you would have a greater cost in flood damage,” Batker said. “We wouldn’t have the water resources we have.”

The survey put the asset value between $60 billion and $619 billion.

The numbers are admittedly broad because of the type of study.

“We wanted to provide the lowest possible estimate and the high estimate,” Batker said.

Earth Economics seeks $30,000 in grant money to provide a follow-up study with more accurate numbers, focusing on prairie lands, according to Lola Flores of Earth Economics.

Taking the economic value of natural resources into account has become a practice at the federal level, according to county Planning Director Scott Clark.

Such information is helpful when looking at the Critical Areas Ordinance and the Shoreline Master Plan, Flores said.

The survey also could shed light on the value of properties that include critical areas.

“It bolsters those efforts to try to maintain or conserve ecosystems and give it a real value,” Flores said.

An example of learning the value of natural resources was seen in New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Earth Economics did surveys of the area after the hurricane, studying how natural wetlands would have helped mitigate the disaster.

“Today we are not really short of asphalt and plastic toys; those things are common,” Batker said. “Now we are short of salmon, short of water quality, short of flood protection and beautiful recreation – these things are now more valuable.”

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 @chelseakrotzer

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