The Value Of Nature

One of the jewels of the US is the State Park system. There are 2 billion acres that were established between 1975 and 2007. We love them but can we afford them? Do they provide good value for the money spent on maintaining them? Or should we be exploiting the land so that we can all pay less tax and drink more tea?

The problem is one of setting a value for their use. Siikamäki has just done this in a paper to the National Academy of Sciences (1). Apparently, in all our State Parks we spend nearly 10 hours each, wandering around enjoying nature, or in a few cases, damaging it. On average, we get down and dirty with nature for another 19 hours per year each in other locations, but we’re not going to delve into that here.

If we now take our naturalist’s or our fun lover’s hats off and replace them with our Earl Grey slurping bean counter’s hat, the cost is $2.3bn/year. I can hear the sharp intake of breath as we struggle to divide that among the total population; wallets are rushing to find a dark closet to hide in.

But before we get bent out of shape we need to think what the value is to each of us with our almost 10 hours per year of wandering free in the park. The big brains in the business have a formula. That is, of course, why they are paid the big bucks. They say that the value of recreation time is worth 33% of good old fashioned working time. (I am already re-writing my epitaph to say “Damn, I should have spent more time at the office.”)

Of course, the big brains with the big hats don’t use their hourly rate. They use our average rate, which comes out as $19 per hour. Even so, the value of our State Park time comes to $14 bn per year. With a 600% profit margin, I think that we can all switch to drinking lattes and leave the Earl Grey to moulder in the boxes in the harbor.


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