- Farley, Joshua
Community Development and Applied Economics, UVM
Vermont’s forests can be developed, converted to timber (a critical input into the market economy) or left intact to provide critical ecosystem system services such as habitat for biodiversity, climate regulation, water regulation and so on. While the market economy is effective at allocating timber towards economic products that maximize its value, it fails to adequately account for the production of social and ecological benefits. In order to prevent the excessive development of forest land, Vermont’s Use Value Appraisal (UVA) program offers tax incentives for maintaining forest lands in timber production, but still fails to account for the production of many social and ecological benefits. The goal of this project was to outline a new, practical definition of ‘productive use’ that can be implemented within the current property tax structure for Northern Forest states to favor a more sustainable use of private forestland. A Delphi survey of forestry experts in Vermont revealed a consensus that forests should be managed for both ecological and economic benefits, but failed to find any consensus concerning social benefits. Delphi participants also agreed that existing property rights should be respected, that incentives were preferable to regulations, and that redefining ‘productive use’ under the UV A program to include ecological benefits was appropriate. A subsequent survey of almost 400 forest land owners which has undergone only preliminary analysis so far suggests that the majority of landowners would be willing to manage their forests for a variety of ecological benefits but lack information on how to do so. Concerning policies for promoting management for ecological benefits, they favor education programs, tax incentives and payment for ecosystem service schemes, in that order. Regulations were the least favored option. We also examined the Little Hogback Community Forest (LHCF) project, designed by Vermont Family Forests, as one model for improving the sustainable, just and efficient allocation of ecosystem services and goods provided by forests. We found that this model offers many advantages over individual ownership, but it also confronts serious problems with sustainable financing and fails to effectively account for regional and global-scale ecosystem services provided by forests. We are currently in the process of analyzing results from our second survey which will help us to refine policy alternatives for promoting sustainable forestry in the Northern Forest region.