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Environmental accounting of natural capital and ecosystem services for the US National Forest System

Elliott Campbell () and Mark Brown

Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, 2012, vol. 14, issue 5, 691-724

Abstract: The National Forests of the United States encompass 192.7 million acres (78 million hectares) of land, which is nearly five percent of the total land area of the nation. These lands are managed by the US Forest Service (USFS) for multiple uses, including extraction of timber, production of fossil fuels and minerals, public recreation, and the preservation of biodiversity, clean air, water, and soils. The USFS is interested in valuing the natural capital within, and the ecosystem services provided by, their lands. This is in part to justify expenditures in a time of limited resources. We used emergy and an environmental accounting approach, to quantify the ecosystem services, the exported environmental goods and information provided by National Forest System (NFS) lands, and the natural capital residing on those lands. Environmental accounting using emergy provides a method to value these flows of services and storages of capital using a common biophysical unit, the solar emjoule and its monetary equivalent the emdollar. We compare emdollar values to economic values gleaned from the literature. In 2005, the ecosystem services provided by USFS lands were equivalent to 197 billion emdollars, and the value of NFS natural capital was 24.3 trillion emdollars. Our evaluation suggests that the Federal Government budget allocation for the NFS ($5.55E+09 in 2005) was well spent, protecting 24.3 trillion emdollars in natural capital and insuring annual ecosystem services totaling 197 billion emdollars. Monetary values for some natural capital and ecosystem services are similar to emergy-derived values (resources like fish, wildlife, water, and firewood extracted from forests), and others are widely different (biodiversity, fossil, and mineral resources). There is large uncertainty associated with computing the environment’s contributions to society whether using emergy or accepted economic techniques; yet, the magnitude of these emergy-derived estimates suggests that even with the uncertainty, the values are significant and monetary expenditures for the Forest Service are justified. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Keywords: Ecosystem services; Forests; Emergy; United States National Forest System; Environmental accounting (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2012
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