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Research / Discovery

Preserving the Forest: Would you pay?

November 17, 2010
By Juliana Velez

Colorado residents wake up every day to a picturesque landscape, perfectly sculpted mountains, and a wide array of flora and fauna -- a very special privilege. However, most Coloradans aren't aware that losing parts of this immaculate scenery could become a problem in the near future, robbing upcoming generations of breathtaking natural surroundings.

Resource economics

White Pine Blister Rust kills trees at all stages of the life cycle and is affecting a wide variety of ecosystems.

Craig Bond, assistant professor in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics at Colorado State University, took matters into his own hands by diving into a particular issue affecting Colorado forests.

Bond graduated from Frostburg State University with a B.S. in economics and received his Ph.D. from UC Davis in agricultural and resource economics. Since his term at CSU began in Fall 2005, Bond has been curiously exploring opportunities to study invasive species from an economic standpoint.

After attending the Central Rockies White Pine Heath Meeting and learning about the invasive species that causes White Pine Blister Rust, he teamed up with Bill Jacobi of CSU and Anna Schoettle of the USDA Forest Service to develop a research project combining ecophysiology, epidemiology, and economics.

Interdisciplinary success story

From the three initial collaborators, the research team grew to include:

  • Patty Champ, USDA Forest Service nonmarket valuation expert
  • James Meldrum, University of Colorado graduate student
  • Cara Nelson, ecologist at the University of Montana
  • Richard Sniezko, geneticist of the Dorena Genetic Research Center

“It is a true interdisciplinary success story,” says Bond of his diverse team’s accomplishments.

Key objectives

The study took off with two key objectives in mind to:

  • estimate the public’s opinion on paying for WPBR management
  • use the information in a modeling context to help those responsible efficiently manage this issue

Invasive species from Asia with no viable solution

Cronartium ribicola, which causes WPBR, is an invasive species hailing from Asia and introduced to North America around 1900. U.S. Forest Service photo.

Cronartium ribicola, which causes WPBR, is an invasive species hailing from Asia and introduced to North America around 1900. There has been no viable solution on how to manage, contain, or kill this malicious fungus. Unlike the better-known bark beetles, it kills trees at all stages of the life cycle, from seedlings through mature trees that have lived up to 4,500 years.

Given the high elevations and harsh environments, it’s very likely that these trees will not be replaced by other species, thus affecting a wide variety of ecosystem services, such as habitat and snow retention.

Willing to trade off income

The team spent two years developing a survey instrument to collect preference data from the general public in the Western United States. As Bond states, “Overall, results showed that the general population of the Western United States cares about the problem of WPBR in their high-elevation forests and are willing to trade off household income in order to manage the threat.”

Preliminary analysis suggests that treatment programs for the high-elevation forest acreage are worth between $100 and $200 per household. The respondent’s reactions to attitudinal questions showed the importance of the benefits derived from the natural services provided by these forests. However, while uses like recreation and tourism explained some of the value, the predominate reason for managing the forests under threat of WPBR is their continued existence for future generations.

Analysis continues

Bond and his team will continue to analyze the survey data in order to present the information to stakeholders in hopes of protecting Colorado’s forests and conserving its incredible, natural beauty.

Originally published in the College of Agricultural Sciences Ag Family newsletter, Fall 2010.