A recent op ed in the Greenville News, “Can and should we put a price tag on nature?” (Oct 5, 2014) by two Furman professors, Dr. John Quinn and R. Melanie Cozad, reminds me how time and again, we return to this question.
The Furman researchers are seeking feedback from citizens to help policymakers shape decisions on how forested areas in Greenville County should be managed. In addition to finding out how people use and value the out of doors, their survey asks how much more are they willing to pay to restore the 15,000 acres of forest lands lost in the County since 1973.
How much we are willing to pay to fund the Conservation Bank is a question also asked at the State House.
Since 2004, the Bank has funded projects in every county except Lee, Lexington, McCormick and Union. Over 200,000 acres of farms, forests, wetlands, parks and historic sites have been protected. Although some properties have been purchased outright, many have been protected by voluntary conservation easements, hence the bargain cost of $535 per acre. In total, 76% of the lands protected by the Conservation Bank offer either general or limited public access. About 100,000 or 48% have full public use, including hunting and fishing, and another 60,000 acres or 28% can be used with landowner permission. In addition, the easement properties produce tax revenues because they remain on the county tax rolls.
While we could wish that all 200,000 acres were publicly owned, we know that all 200,000 acres provide public benefit. If we ask the question about whether or not the total price tag of $115,772,395 spent by the Conservation Bank has been a good investment, the response would need to calculate the value of keeping working farms and forests in production, maintaining water quality and quantity, reducing flooding, enriching wildlife habitat, providing outdoor recreation and attracting tourism.
When it comes to pricing nature, the Conservation Bank is one investment that will pay dividends to future South Carolinians.