How much money is the Sierra worth? |

How much money is the Sierra worth?

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunDense forest fills Ward Canyon on Lake Tahoe's West Shore. A new report will calculate the economic value of the Sierra Nevada's forests and other habitat.

Clean water and fresh air are just two of the vital resources the Sierra Nevada provides to millions of people for free ” and both are often taken for granted.

The Sierra Business Council and the U.S. Forest Service will sign a memorandum of understanding Thursday to formalize their commitment to ecosystem services, a new concept that attempts to quantify the monetary value of the natural resources provided by Sierra Nevada ecosystems.

“[Clean air and water] are the benefits from healthy ecosystems that we often take for granted and believe are free and limitless,” said Janice Gauthier, California communications director for the U.S. Forest Service. “But, we’re looking for ways for people to recognize these benefits … we’re looking at ways for people to value them, and for ways for people to value them in the marketplace.”

Placing a monetary value on the Sierra Nevada’s ecosystems will help illustrate the need to conserve the forests and maintain the lifeline that the Sierra Nevada provides to communities free of charge.

“[Ecosystem services] are the things we depend on, that we actually depend on to survive,” said Betony Jones, the council’s forestry and conservation program director. “If we lose them we’ll have to manufacture them, because they’re just things we can’t live without.”

The memorandum signing will take place on Aug. 16 at the Sustaining Sierra Forests Event in South Lake Tahoe. The council will also present its most recent publication, the State of the Sierra Forests report, and launch a “$1 for the Sierra” program cosponsored by the council and the National Forests Foundation to raise funds for ecosystem services.

The memorandum will formalize an agreement between the council and the U.S. Forest Service to share data and resources so they can collaborate in addressing shared environmental goals.

“It’s a relatively new line of thinking … but it’s very exciting,” Gauthier said. “I think it’s going to be a very forward thinking and looking, progressive event.”

Both agencies are attempting to measure the economic value of the Sierra Nevada environment, including carbon sequestration, water filtration, erosion control, wildlife habitats and nutrient cycling, to demonstrate how worthwhile it is to save the mountains and forests.

“Once you have a value, it’s easier to capture money to maintain those things,” Jones said. “It’s a way of re-internalizing the cost and value of environmental services into the overall economy. So, it links our economic health ” local, state and national ” to the health of the environment.”

At Thursday’s Sustaining Sierra Forests Event, Jones will present the State of Sierra Forests, an analytical look at the Sierra Nevada’s forests and their assets, threats and opportunities.

When compiling the information, Jones said she wanted to take a fresh approach to forest conservation.

Instead of addressing the major, controversial issues that seem to attract conflict, Jones looked at peripheral issues. She said she wanted to establish trust by building common ground around feasible opportunities. After the trust is built, then partnerships can move beyond more controversial issues, such as catastrophic fire, Jones said.

“We’re at a point that’s stagnant and not serving anybody,” Jones said. “So, what can we look at to move beyond conflict.”

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