What is the value of conserved ecosystems? Many of us find aesthetic or recreational value in lands set aside from development, but putting a dollar sign on the services that whole ecosystems provide for society is a bit more difficult. The D&R Greenway Land Trust and Properties has been conserving farmland and natural land in New Jersey since 1989 and now has over 20,000 acres under its jurisdiction, many of which are open to public enjoyment. In their 2015 report, the Greenway Trust estimated the productivity of their conserved lands according to tangible services according to the value or benefit transfer approach.
This approach factored in projected mitigation costs, prevention value, and community willingness to pay to restore resources in their estimated conservation value for the different types of land in the care of the D&R Greenway. According to this estimate, the total value of the ecosystem services was $400 million. Since then, however, the Greenway Trust has acquired even more land in trust which would increase the ecosystem value of their overall holdings.
In my capstone project, I plan to work with the New Jersey D&R Greenway Land Trust to evaluate the total ecosystem value of their holdings with these new editions. This is a process that will involve empirically assessing the value of the preserved ecosystems using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), land use/land cover maps, and habitat value estimations. I expect to make at least one trip, if not more, to the Greenway Trust sites in order to properly evaluate them. This research should produce an accurate estimate of the monetary value provided by the preservation of these ecosystems to be presented to the D&R and made available to the New Jersey public at large.