What's the Value of Conservation?

Generally, we take care of items that have value to us. I get my Jeep serviced on a regular basis because it has value to me. Sure, I can sell it for money, but the motivation for me is that I don’t want to have to replace it with a more expensive vehicle. That’s easy to understand.
But what motives us to take care of something that doesn’t easily translate to dollars in our pocket, like the conservation of natural resources?  Can we show an economic value of conservation?

The ecological benefits of reduced erosion are well-documented. Less sediment in streams and rivers provides a clean habitat for aquatic life and creates a more diverse ecosystem. And everybody downstream reaps the rewards of cleaner water (less costs for water treatment plants) and recreational opportunities (fishing, boating, swimming, etc.) And remember we are all downstream of someone. 

But of course there’s a benefit to the farmer to keep healthy soil in place. Citing “Conservation Benefits, Putting Value Where It Belongs” (National Association of Conservation Districts, 2010), if the cost of a ton of eroded soil is considered, there is a qualified economic value. USDA estimates the costs of eroded soil range between $6.10 and $6.40 per ton, using 2009 values (includes fertilizer costs, loss of production, loss of land values, etc). The annual decline in sheet and rill erosion between 1982 – 2007 is an estimated 720 million tons. At $6.10 per ton, that equals $4.4 billion in costs avoided. 

Avoided costs do not translate to checks written and received. But, similar to my desire to avoid the cost of a different vehicle by maintaining the one that is paid for, the figures do provide insight into the value of conservation activities that prevent erosion.
Depending on what source you use, approximately 11% of land on Earth is able to grow crops, which is mind blowing if you think that all of our food depends on that small percentage of our spinning planet. All of us need to support farmers who make conservation a priority. 
Holmes SWCD works with farmers to implement conservation practices that benefit their operation and our greater community. To learn more, contact our office at 330-674-2811. 

Michelle Wood oversees the day to day operations of the district and the diverse activities offered to promote clean water and healthy soil. With a lifelong passion for the outdoors and a background in communications, she appreciates the conservation district grassroots model which enables the local board and staff to create programs that meet the conservation needs of Holmes County.  Michelle is a member of several statewide committees, including the ODNR Parks Advisory Council and the Clean Ohio Fund Natural Resources Assistance Council.  Contact Michelle at 330-674-2811 or at mwood@co.holmes.oh.us