Forest ecosystems give us a lot of benefits and ecosystem services. This is what scientists say at the international level and taken into account by officials when developing state budgets.
We’ve written about what ecosystem services are and why we should pay for nature conservation here. Let’s get acquainted with the topic in more detail, and I’m thankful to three experts: zoologist Oleksiy Vasyliuk, head of the UNCG NGO, ecologist Kateryna Norenko (she did the relevant research for the “Ecology – Law – Human” NGO), and Ph.D. in biological sciences Arsen Viter.
The forest is not just a set of trees
The forest is much larger than we usually imagine: e.g., than just firewood or a source of mushrooms. It is an ecosystem that:
· purifies air and water;
· retains this water;
· retains moisture so that it does not evaporate immediately;
· replenishes the river runoff.
· is a habitat for biodiversity.
The forest also assimilates carbon dioxide, regulates the microclimate, and does many other valuable things we do not think about daily.
Why do we imagine the forest only as a resource, only as firewood and berries, but do not think about other valuable things?
This is because some ecosystem services are monetized, i.e., explained in terms of cash, and others are not monetized. Any phenomenon which has no monetary equivalent cannot influence officials’ decision-making and cannot remain in our minds as something valuable.
After the latest research by scientists, ecosystem services, which previously, until 2010s, were simply impossible to calculate from an economic point of view, can now be estimated. In recent years we can say precisely how much a hectare of forest costs. I mean, in terms of water purification and the existence of pollinators on which the harvest depends (for example, bees).
If scientists have not yet calculated some services, it does not mean that they are free (or don’t have a cost). It means that we simply still don’t take them for granted.
We started from the benefits of the forest only. But imagine how much you can calculate (in monetary terms) the benefits of water bodies that shape the climate, of groundwater, of the soil! These would be numbers with many zeros in dollars. Because we, humans, cannot create the artificial copy of the soil on our own.
Pillars with air conditioning instead of forest
How to calculate the formation of the microclimate? Let’s fantasize.
The main thing that the forest gives in Europe during the hot periods of the year is the passage and moisture in the air (in countries like Iran and Iraq, it applies all year round). There are no exact methods of calculating forest services here. So let’s just call to memory: in what other way can humanity get a passable moist air?
For example, we can do it artificially – using the air conditioner. From the instructions for any air conditioner, we can learn that it consumes a certain amount of electricity and, after a certain amount of electricity is consumed, can make humidity and air temperature for a certain number of cubic meters of space. That is, for a large hangar, you would need, for example, ten air conditioners.
Let’s take popular inexpensive air conditioners and calculate how many of them are needed to fully cover the air volume that has daily, for example, one national park with a forest. The cost is air conditioning, which must be purchased once, and electricity, which is required for its operation during the hot period of the year, is an actual cost of the ecosystem services of the park.
We compare the ecosystem benefits of the forest itself and imaginary pillars with air conditioners instead of the forest. We get an impressive amount of money that the forest saves us thanks to its existence.
How much does it cost in dollars?
This comparison is for understanding the simple truth.
We talk about everything “natural” as free for use. But there’s actually no free wildlife.
When we lose the forest, the air gets worse; the region gets hotter. It will be necessary to deliver water from somewhere else. It will not be possible to grow some plant crops in this region. We’ll have to transport products from afar to burn fuel for this reason. (This, actually, is the practice of a few Gulf countries, which have no forests).
In some countries, some ecosystem services are included in taxes, used to calculate the value of the land on land valuation.
There is no officially approved methodology that everyone would use at the international level. These are all scientific researches; they are not endorsed by parliaments or executive bodies in any country. All of them are vast reports of scientists on hundreds of pages with substantiation of why they considered levers so. At the end of such a report, authors write a typical conclusion: “We believe, based on these methods, that one hectare of forest in the boreal zone, in terms of biodiversity, costs… (number in dollars)”.
(Boreal climate (from the Greek borealis, which means “northern”) is a cold climate of temperate latitudes with well-defined seasons – snowy winters and short warm summers. Landscapes of taiga and mixed forests dominate the regions of the boreal climate).
There’s a significant difference between whether such a report was written by scientists from a highly developed or middle-developed country because authors calculated their numbers in dollars. To plant a new tree in America will cost, let’s say, $20, and in the post-Soviet country – let’s say $3. If the scientists from the Western countries write this, there the price will a priori be higher. Because there is a higher roar development and everything will be more expensive.
Where do beavers fit in this story?
Although these methods have not been officially approved, they are used by government agencies. In the European Union, scientists calculate how much the Natura 2000 protected network and its ecosystem services cost and how much it costs for the alliance to preserve this network.
In the United States, officials calculated the cost of ecosystem services for everything in a row; they even calculated the economic effect of the beaver.
That is, scientists calculated, what is the economic benefit of a beaver living on the river, and what are financial gains when beavers maintain the natural consistency of the ecosystem. Accordingly, the rivers have a proper flow and water level/content. The calculations are used by the US Forest Service and the State Statistics Service.
The Americans also calculated the economic benefits of birds living in the United States. And, surprisingly, it’s not a direct connection: every third inhabitant of the States is a birdwatcher. In total, these enthusiasts spend $48 billion just to:
* buy cameras, binoculars, tourist equipment;
* go to a secluded place to see a particular bird;
* pay for the entrance to the national park, etc.
Birdwatchers make such profits that the US government spends large sums of money on the budget to preserve the wildlife. Why? Just because it’s profitable.
What will happen if the world countries do not receive ecosystem services at all or do not receive enough?
In short, the consequences are as follows:
· Ocean acidification.
· Climate warming, i.e., desertification, melting glaciers, rising ocean levels, destruction of fertile land, and lowland real estate.
· Crisis of nutrients (primarily phosphorus). It will lead to a monopoly of raw materials suppliers for the production of fertilizers and resource dependence of agricultural producers. Why? Because there is not enough phosphorus in some countries. 95% of the world’s phosphorus salaries are in the hands of the monopolies of 5-6 countries like China, the USA, Russia, and Western Sahara states. A new type of transnational corporation can be formed – monopolists of phosphorus production.
· Natural disasters.
· Leaching of nutrients in natural reservoirs and the development of phytoplankton there. These microorganisms, in some periods, consume so much oxygen that they suffocate all other living things.
· The growth of biotic and abiotic causes of human, plant, and animal diseases.
What are the most significant benefits of receiving ecosystem services?
In addition to the mentioned above and in our author’s column, these are:
· They reduce the risk of floods and droughts.
· Stabilization of water supply of territories, particularly leveling of a food mode of the rivers and lakes. This leads to an increase in water resources that people withdraw for irrigation, without risk to water bodies.
· Stimulation of precipitation in regions remote from reservoirs, in particular – in the mountains.
· They create favorable conditions for human, animal, and agricultural health. The consequence of this is an increase in the efficiency of medicine and agricultural production.
· Expanding soil fertility.
· They make for an increase in biological yield.
· Replacement of hazardous materials production methods (e.g., medical ones) with safe methods based on bioresources.Want to know some more? You may read our FAQ on why cities need green zones, and Gulf needs mangroves and wetlands here.