Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Valuation of rangeland ecosystem services

January 1, 2011

Economic valuation lends itself well to the anthropocentric orientation of ecosystem services. An
economic perspective on ecosystems portrays them as natural assets providing a flow of goods and services
valuable to individuals and society collectively. A few examples include the purification of drinking water,
reduced risk from flooding and other extreme events, pollination of agricultural crops, climate regulation, and
recreation opportunities from plant and animal habitat maintenance, among many others. Once these goods
and services are identified and quantified, they can be monetized to complete the valuation process. The
monetization of ecosystem goods and services (in the form of dollars) provides a common metric that allows
for cross-comparison of attributes and evaluation of differing ecological scenarios.

Complicating the monetization process is the fact that most of these goods and services are public and
non-market in nature; meaning they are non-rival and non-exclusive and are typically not sold in a traditional
market setting where monetary values are revealed. Instead, one must employ non-market valuation
techniques, with primary valuation methods typically being very time and resource consuming, intimidating to
non-economists, and often impractical. For these reasons, benefit transfer methods have gained popularity.
This methodology harnesses the primary collection results of existing studies to make inferences about the
economic values of non-market goods and services at an alternative policy site (in place and/or in time). For
instance, if a primary valuation study on oak reestablishment on rangelands in southern California yielded a
value of $30 per-acre associated with water regulation, this result can be transferred, with some adjustments,
to say something about the value of an acre of oaks on rangelands in northern portions of the state.

The economic valuation of rangeland ecosystem services has many roles. Economic values may be
used as input into analyzing the costs and benefits associated with policies being proposed, or possibly already
implemented. For example, with monetized values acting as a common metric, one could compare the
'benefits' of converting a rangeland ecosystem for commercial development (perhaps estimated at the market
value of the developed land) with the foregone ecosystem service values (in addition to any land income lost)
resulting from that land conversion. Similarly, ecosystem service values can be used to determine the level of
return on an investment. rhis is a primary objective for private land conservation organizations who typically
have very limited resources. Ecosystem service valuation can also have a role in damage assessments from
incidents that require compensation such as oil spills. Additionally, valuation can be very informative when
investigating regulatory programs that trade ecological assets such as wetland mitigation programs. Typically
these programs are based simply on an 'acre for acre' criterion, and do not take into consideration varying
welfare values associated with that ecosystem. Lastly, and most fundamental, ecosystem service valuation
serves as a recognition tool for people of all backgrounds. Identifying and valuing ecosystem goods and
services on rangelands brings to light the value these natural assets have to human welfare that often remain
hidden do to their public and non-market attributes. This type of recognition is vital to the preservation of
rangeland ecosystems in the future and the many ecological benefits they provide.

Publication Year 2011
Title Valuation of rangeland ecosystem services
Authors W.R. Gascoigne
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Abstract or summary
Index ID 70118896
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse