Environment News Service (ENS)
Environment News Service (ENS)

Survey asks Missourians to place dollar value on wetlands

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Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

The state of Missouri is asking for help from the public in placing a dollar value on any given acre of wetland by asking people to respond to an online questionnaire. Information from the anonymous survey will help the Department of Natural Resources develop economic tools to evaluate wetland compensation and the costs the public is willing to bear for wetland management and restoration.

Every piece of wetlands provides value through social and environmental benefits such as flood control, water quality improvements and wildlife habitat in addition to the property’s economic value, the department says in its introduction to the survey. The property’s market value is recognized by the owner, while the social benefits are recognized by the public as well as the private owner.

While most of Missouri's historic wetlands have been converted to agricultural, residential or commercial uses, the state still contains eight types of natural wetlands - swamps, shrub swamps, forested wetlands, marshes, wet meadows, fens and seeps, pond and lake borders and stream banks.

Wetlands are impacted during construction of highways, roads, businesses and homes, the department explains, noting that state and federal governments can regulate the discharge, dredging or placing of fill material into navigable waters and adjacent wetlands through a permitting process.

'Within the permit process the federal government or the state may require compensation, replacement or restoration to mitigate wetland impacts,' says the department.

The department acknowledges that, 'In theory wetland restoration may help to ensure that there is no net loss of wetlands, yet a restored wetland is never exactly the same as the drained or filled wetland.'

'Soil and water conditions will vary between wetlands and restored wetland functions may take many years before they can mimic a natural wetland. With different soil and water conditions, the mix of plants and animals also varies. In addition, the public may have accessibility to one wetland but not the other. Consequently, the functions and values of a restored wetland may vary from the drained or filled wetland,' the agency explains.

The nine-page survey asks participants about their experience with wetlands and wetland-related activities such as fishing, hunting, farming, boating, swimming or birding.

The survey also explores what value respondents place on the various functions of wetlands, including flood control, wildlife habitat, water quality enhancement, erosion control and recreation.

Questions ask participants to place a value on each of these functions, relative to wetland acreage's fair market value.

As an example, the department uses the Congaree Bottom Hardwood Swamp in South Carolina, which it says 'removes a quantity of pollutants from the watershed equivalent to that which would be removed by a $5 million treatment plant.'

One question asks, 'With improving water quality in mind, is a wetland worth more, less, or the same dollar amount to you as the market value of a piece of land?'

The third section of the questionnaire asks a few questions about participants' background and formal education. The department explains that in the analysis of the results, these questions will be used to group respondents’ answers in order to learn how different segments of Missouri’s population differ in their opinions.

Any Missouri citizen may participate in the wetland survey and the results will be published by the DNR.

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