U.S. private forest landowners earn $3.3 billion per year from ecosystem services
Forests provide clean air, clean water, and wildlife habitat. But private landowners don’t usually get paid for these benefits their forests provide. However, there are some opportunities to receive payments for ecosystem services, and they have been growing in recent years.
In most cases, private forest landowners are not able to market and sell the rights to the services of cleaning water and air, storing carbon, or providing wildlife habitat. However, in recent decades, opportunities to make money from those services have increased. These payments can incentivize land ownership rather than converting to some other land use.
A team of researchers from the USDA Forest Service and Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education compiled a thorough and exhaustive dataset on payments for forest-based ecosystem services in the U.S. Payments come from government programs, compliance markets for credits or offsets created by regulations, and voluntary markets.
The researchers documented an increase of 64% over 15 years from $2.2 billion in 2005 to $3.6 billion in 2019, after adjusting for inflation. This equals about $7.77 per acre of private forestland per year, although many landholdings still receive none. Hunting leases are the largest single ecosystem service payment source. In 2016, landowners received $1.6 billion for hunting leases.
Markets for carbon and water have also grown. In particular, California’s cap-and-trade program increased from $3 million in 2010 to $326 million in 2019. However, government programs that pay for ecosystem services have steadily decreased in real dollar terms over time, as has participating land area.
- Principal Investigator
- Gregory Frey, Research Forester
- 4804 - Forest Economics and Policy
- Payments for forest-based ecosystem services in the United States: Magnitudes and trends
- CompassLive Article
- Payments for ecosystem services
- Research Partner
- Natasha James, Washington Office of Strategic Planning & Performance Accountability
- External Partners
- Chalisa Kallayanamitra, Bank of Thailand
- Philadelphia Wilkens, US Endowment for Forestry and Communities