Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Ecosystem services

I was thinking about Proposition 37 that was passed in Oregon in November. This is the constitutional amendment that requires the state and local governments to compensate landowners for reductions in land value due to land use regulations. It is, of course, total bullshit and a trope that passed solely by dint of its obtuse language. Or so I hope.

Anyway, I was thinking about Prop. 37 in relation to ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are those benefits provided by healthy ecosystems. One example are healthy riparian areas (otherwise known as stream and river banks). When riparian areas retain their natural vegetation and ground cover, they vastly reduce runoff into streams, slow down water flow, and generally reduce the strength and frequency of floods. Another example is wetland areas. A healthy wetland serves to filter and clean water that runs through it, thus ensuring cleaner water supplies for humans. (You might look here or here for further reading on the subject.) Though many people, especially conservatives, contest the idea or existence of ecosystem services, it is pretty clear that healthy ecosystems provide real value to the communities near which they are located. Likwise, it is clear that development within these healthy ecosystems can reduce those values and inflict harm on neighboring communities. Thus, for example, if Weyerhauser logs a watershed in Oregon, a downstream town could very well experience an uptick in floods and related costs.

So what does this have to do with Prop. 37? Well, imagine another constitutional amendment that required landowners to compensate local communities for loss of ecosystem services. I haven't put much thought into it, but this seems like an effective way of ensuring a governing system that makes 1) government fully consider the value of proposed regulations and 2) land owners fully consider the value of proposed development. I'll post more on this later. Right now, it's dinner time!