The value of ecosystem services provided by the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System in the contiguous U.S
Studies that demonstrate the economic value of the ecosystem services provided by public conservation lands can contribute to a more accurate appraisal of the benefit of these lands. The objective of this study was to estimate the economic value, in real (2004) dollars, of the ecosystem services provided by the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System (Refuge System) in the contiguous U.S. In order to estimate this value, we determined the ecosystems present on the Refuge System in the contiguous 48 states, the proportion in which they are represented, and the dollar value of services provided by each. We used land cover classes as an approximation of ecosystems present in the Refuge System. In a geographic information system (GIS), we combined land cover geospatial data with a map of the Refuge System boundaries to calculate the number of acres for each refuge and land cover class within the Refuge System. We transferred values for the following ecosystem services: climate and atmospheric gas regulation; disturbance prevention; freshwater regulation and supply; waste assimilation and nutrient regulation; and habitat provision. We conducted a central tendency value transfer by transferring averaged values taken from primarily original site studies to the Refuge System based on the ecoregion in which each study site and refuge was located and the ecoregion's relative net primary productivity (NPP). NPP is a parameter used to quantify the net carbon absorption rate by living plants, and has been shown to be correlated with spatially fungible ecosystem services. The methodologies used in the site studies included direct market valuation, indirect market valuation and contingent valuation. We estimated the total value of ecosystem services provided by the Refuge System in the contiguous U.S. to be approximately $26.9 billion/year. This estimate is a first cut attempt to demonstrate that the value of the Refuge System likely exceeds the value derived purely from recreational activities. Due to limitations of current understanding, methods and data, there is a potentially large margin of error associated with the estimate.
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