Monday, August 15, 2005

Inexplicable

Treehugger points out this odd coincidence:
the US Forest Service reports that it has re-estimated the macro-economic value of recreation in Federally managed forests, and found that it is worth a full order of magnitude less to the nation's economy than was thought just a few years ago?

Today's Washington Post covered the story. Opening lines: "Forest Service officials have scaled back their assessment of how much recreation on national forest land contributes to the American economy, concluding that these activities generate just a tenth of what the Clinton administration estimated". Interestingly, an earlier, separate Federal agency study documented that the economic value associated with recreation in such forests increased by over 30% from 1996 to 2001.
Since these valuations play into cost-benefit analyses and management decisions, cutting the value of recreation to 10% will shift the balance away from long-term preservation of wilderness and toward short-term extraction.

How you value recreation is tricky. Surveys tell us some things, and people's expenditures on their hobbies are informative, but in the end, recreation is what we do to get away from worrying about money and cost. It's the sponge that soaks up your disposable income. It's worth whatever we have to spare, and whatever our grandchildren will have to spare. I don't know how to estimate it, and it sounds like the Forest Service doesn't either.

As always, putting the Department of Agriculture in charge of areas with competing recreational and silvicultural uses is a questionable decision.