A University of Georgia researcher has found that Georgia’s forestlands provide essential ecosystem services to the state worth an estimated $37 billion annually.

This is in addition to the value of timber, forest products and recreation. This is the first time these indirect benefits of Georgia’s private forests have been estimated.

Rebecca Moore, an assistant professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, studied the 22 million acres of privately-owned forestland in Georgia to estimate the benefits of water filtration, carbon storage, wildlife habitat and aesthetics.

“People value these things,” Moore said, “but because they aren’t like other goods in that people don’t go out and buy them, it’s difficult to estimate just how much we value them. The purpose of our research was to do just that — estimate the value of the ecosystem services provided by private forests in Georgia.”

Moore’s study was conducted with funding from the Georgia Forestry Foundation. The findings of her study were announced at the state capitol on Feb. 9.

“We have had studies for some time that tell us what the economic benefit of wood and fiber manufacturing in the state is,” said Steve McWilliams, executive director of the Georgia Forestry Foundation. “This new study allows us to place a dollar value on those services we receive from the standing forests, and they are many.”

Moore’s final report, which can be found at http://www.warnell.uga.edu/news/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Final-Report-1-24-11.pdf, focused on six types of ecosystem services forests provide: gas and climate regulation; water quantity and quality; soil formation and stability; pollination; wildlife habitats; and aesthetic, cultural and passive use.

Analyzed key forest characteristics

Moore and her collaborators — graduate students Tiffany Williams and Eduardo Rodriguez and Warnell Assistant Professor Jeffrey Hepinstall-Cymmerman — analyzed Georgia forestlands by identifying key forest characteristics that affect ecosystem services and estimating per-acre values for each different type of forest. These values were estimated from survey data the team collected and from the results of previous published studies.

What Moore found upon concluding her three-year study is that Georgia’s private forests provide an estimated $37 billion annual benefit to Georgia residents. The values can vary widely — between $200 to $13,000 per acre — depending on the location and ecology of the land, Moore said.

“Understanding the value of these benefits of forestland is important,” Moore said, “because it allows us to make better land use decisions. The ecological services forestlands provide are incredibly beneficial to Georgia, and you receive these benefits whether or not you own forestland. Many people think of them as free. But if we lose forestland, we risk losing these benefits.”

McWilliams said he hopes the results of Moore’s study focusing specifically on Georgia will result in public policy decisions that help us conserve Georgia’s working forests. “It carries a lot of weight when we can talk about Georgia forests to Georgia legislators and Georgia opinion leaders,” McWilliams concluded.

The Georgia Forestry Association is a conservation organization based in Forsyth. It works with landowners to adopt sound land management practices so their forests will help provide clean air and water, soil conservation, wildlife habitats, recreation and timber products.

For more information on the Georgia Forestry Association, see www.gfagrow.org http://www.gfagrow.org/.

For more information on the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, see http://www.forestry.uga.edu/.