North Florida Land Trust releases Preservation Portfolio
“As you can see by these numbers, the benefits of preserving these lands far outweighs the cost of acquisition,” said Jim McCarthy, Executive Director of NFLT. “Our objective for this project was threefold; identify the critically important land to our health, illustrate the many benefits provided by these lands, and calculate the dollar amount that preserving these lands actually means to our economy. These benefits are called ecosystem benefits. For many elected officials, government agencies, community leaders, businesses and private landowners, it is the dollar amount that drives their decisions. We want to show them that land conservation is in fact critical to our health and beneficial to the economy.”
Ecosystem benefits are defined as services provided by the natural environment that we would otherwise pay for; in short, it is what nature provides us for free. Preserving the land reduces or eliminates the need for storm water drainage or sewage treatment facilities, prevents or reduces flooding, offers needed recreational areas, provides fisheries and even creates areas for wildlife viewing – a $4.9 billion a year industry in Florida.
“Our ecosystem services will actually determine what the return on investment is in terms of environmental impact like clean air and water, and reduced pollution,” said McCarthy. “A wetland will filter out pollutants like nitrogen at a high rate. If you do not preserve that wetland, the city or county could be required to build a wastewater or stormwater treatment plant. Our Preservation Portfolio shows how conserving that wetland could actually save the taxpayers money.”
NFLT’s Land Protection Director, Marc Hudson, and Stewardship Manager, Elizabeth Guthrie, developed the Preservation Portfolio using the North Florida Conservation Priorities, an adaptable database of natural resources in their operating area that the Land Trust completed last year. They looked at over three million acres in Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, and St. Johns Counties. These areas include an array of ecosystems; from coastal salt marshes and pine forests, to cypress swamps and everything in between.
They used a strategic land prioritization tool, which NFLT developed, to identify areas with the highest natural, agricultural, and historic values. They also looked at areas most at risk from population growth and sea level rise. They then identified what NFLT calls Preservation Priority Areas, the most critical and valuable lands for conservation, which became the focus of the Preservation Portfolio.
To place a dollar amount on preservation, they used widely accepted research and studies on the monetary value of ecosystem services. For each of the Preservation Priority Areas, they studied the potential ecosystem service benefits of preservation and calculated their values. Those benefits fall under a number of categories including removal of air pollutants and greenhouses gases; protection from storms, floods and droughts; regulating water supply; building organic soils for farming and forestry; removing nutrients and contaminants from our waterways; maintaining native habitats and wildlife we enjoy, and the production of food and fiber.
The general cost of acquisition was estimated based on the tax appraised values for each parcel within them, increased by 35%, which is an appraising estimation used by the State of Florida. The return on investment (ROI) in the Preservation Portfolio refers to the length of time each parcel of land would take to pay back its acquisition costs in terms of ecosystem service. For example, the Long Branch Preservation Priority Area has an estimated acquisition cost of $14.9 million, but an annual ecosystem service value of $33 million, and therefore this property has a ROI of 5.5 months. Since the Preservation Portfolio focuses on the most highly valued ecosystems in our area, most are extremely productive in terms of ecosystem services.
NFLT will use this Preservation Portfolio to pursue funding for acquisition of these lands, to engage in outreach campaigns, and to talk to landowners about the way in which NFLT can help preserve their land. They will also talk with cities and counties about saving taxpayer money by conserving land rather than building expensive treatment plants. For businesses, the benefit of investing and working with NFLT could generate goodwill and positive press from such an investment and the possibility of reducing its own carbon footprint.
About North Florida Land Trust
North Florida Land Trust is a non-profit organization who serves as a champion of land conservation primarily in Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, and St. Johns counties. NFLT was founded in 1999 and has protected thousands of acres of environmentally significant land including land at Big Talbot Island, the River Branch Preserve, Pumpkin Hill, Moccasin Slough, along the St. Mary’s River and other valued natural areas in Northeast Florida. NFLT is funded largely by private and corporate contributions and works closely with private landowners and other public agencies at all levels of government, not-for-profit partners, and foundations. For more information, visit www.northfloridalandtrust.org.
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