Conservation Economics

The Green Side of Economics: Determining a Habitat’s Uplift Potential for Conservation Planning

May 13, 2024

By: Randy Mandel

At the 2024 National Conference on Ecological Restoration (NCER), Montrose ecologists and economists led by Principal Randy Mandel led a series of presentations discussing the ecological and economic benefits that should entice property owners to conserve their land. Assessment methods that value ecological attributes and ecosystem services are important to communicating public and private shared interests. Quantifying the property’s natural capital and ecosystem services can improve conservation planning and inform the value of conservation easements. In Session 24, Data-Driven Natural Capital Valuation to Optimize Value and Ecological Uplift Potential on Private Lands, experts shared their experiences incorporating economic valuation in conservation easement planning. A brief synopsis of the discussion here emphasizes the importance of an ecological assessment as the first step in planning for a land conservation easement.

The Importance of Carbon Sequestration

Biodiversity is crucial for environmental conservation and restoration. It helps sustain our planet’s living integrity, maintains our ecosystems’ health, and plays a vital role in ecological functionality, human well-being, and our economy. One of the essential functions of biodiversity is its role in carbon balance and sequestration, which is essential for offsetting carbon emissions and helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Natural areas, with their diverse array of species and ecosystems, including their microbial systems and hydrology, act as valuable carbon sinks, helping to store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

With the alarming rise in carbon emissions and the consequent threat to natural carbon sinks, the need to enhance habitats and bolster the capacity of natural environments for carbon sequestration is more pressing than ever. This underscores the crucial role of an ecosystem-based approach, where economics is utilized to value restoration options, weigh alternatives, and quantify the provision of ecological services and functions provided by restoration.

Biodiversity Assessment and Approaches

The first step in conservation should be the assessment of the land’s biodiversity. This involves a desktop analysis of available environmental data and a visit to survey the property in person. Predictive modeling and deep learning technology can be used to create a “scorecard” and dashboard to record and monitor essential ecological attributes and biodiversity. Remote sensing tools like satellite imagery, LiDAR, and drone surveys can help determine important factors such as habitat type, site stressors (e.g., invasive species, habitat degradation, and erosion), canopy cover and height, hydrology, and hydrologic connectivity, as well as species richness, connectivity, and distribution. When these tools are integrated into a property conservation assessment, the landowner acquires a bird’s-eye view of the various wildlife and habitats on the property and an indication of how well the ecosystem is functioning and likely to function in the future.

The data collected from these diverse desktop analysis and field survey tools serve a practical purpose. The information can be harnessed to create a predictive model, capturing ecological patterns and predicting changes across time and space over larger areas in a safe, time-efficient, and cost-effective manner. This practical application of advanced tools and technologies enhances our understanding of the value of natural areas and ensures that our restoration efforts are targeted, effective, and achieve maximum impact.

Ecological Uplift Potential and Outcomes

The methodology for ecological assessment plays a crucial role in determining the potential of a property to support habitats for different wildlife species. This potential is referred to as the property’s “uplift potential,” which refers to the ability to restore sustainable ecological functionality from a less-than-optimal or desirable state on the property. The intention is to inform land conservation practices and long-term management decisions that will contribute to ensuring restoration efforts are targeted and effective. By harnessing advanced tools and technologies, ecologists and economists collaborate to create a deeper understanding of both the ecological and economic value of natural areas.

Contact us today to learn the value of your restoration or conservation project. Your work is invaluable in our collective efforts to enhance restoration with economics, and we appreciate your dedication to this cause.

Randy Mandel
Principal, Biodiversity and Nature Restoration Practice

Randy Mandel is a leading subject matter expert for biodiversity and restoration ecology. He brings over 30 years of experience in the use of site-specific native plants, the integration of ecological and constructed systems, and the incorporation of native flora and fauna to over 5,000 domestic and international project sites throughout his career. Mr. Mandel co-founded and led Rocky Mountain Native Plants Company, one of the largest container native plant nurseries in the U.S., for over 13 years. He has authored over two dozen publications, including international journal articles and a stand-alone monograph on the use of wetland plant species for biofiltration.

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