The recent lead contamination of drinking water supplied to residents living in the city of Flint, Michigan, has led to increased awareness of the need to protect watersheds.
Ecosystem service initiatives financed by end-users (consumers) can provide landowners with a financial incentive to voluntarily take part in environmental enhancement efforts. After conducting a nationwide survey, a team of researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia have now found that the average person would be more inclined to contribute to efforts to improve water quality than they would to other Ecosystem services initiatives, such as habitat protection or flood control.
"Our findings support the notion that ecosystem service programs need to happen at the local level," said Francisco Aguilar, associate professor of forestry in the School of Natural Resources, which is located in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. "People in different areas of the country have different priorities, and that's hard to coordinate at a national level. If someone lives in a flood plain, they are going to be a lot more willing to pay for flood controls. Still, people from around the nation consistently seem to be willing to pay for water quality improvements."
Aguilar together with his team surveyed over 1,000 households across the country for the study, asking participants to state their preference/s of which Ecosystem Services they would be prepared to pay for if included as part of their households utility bill. While the researchers found that participants generally tended to be more willing to contribute towards water quality initiatives rather than other ecosystem services, flood control and habitat protection varied extensively in terms of importance, depending on where the participant lived. A beautiful landscape was not valued as a vital ecosystem service, which the authors believe is because an aesthetically pleasing landscape does not easily translate into a service that provides financial benefits.
According to co-author, Elizabeth Obeng, who worked on this research while completing her PhD at MU, a forest of trees can be viewed as a natural resource that provides valuable services to society. Trees not only release oxygen into the atmosphere, they can also help to control flooding. However, the same can't be said about an aesthetically pleasing landscape. It's hard to convince a landowner that there will be any return on their investment if they contribute to this cause.
The survey also showed that a persons attitude towards the environment and their support of ecosystem service initiatives were more likely to affect their willingness to contribute rather than their income level. Consequently, the authors believe that behavioral factors, rather than demographics, are likely to play a more important role in determining whether a person would be willing to contribute to ecosystem enhancement initiatives.
The report, which was recently published online in Ecosystem Services, will appear in the April (2018) print edition of the journal.