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economists support wild forests

The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

It has come to our attention that your administration is in the process of developing a new scientifically based policy for the management of roadless areas on public forestlands. As economists who specialize in natural resource issues, we are writing to provide input regarding the economics of roadless areas.

As was pointed out in a recent letter to you signed by over 100 scientists, there is a substantial body of scientific evidence regarding the importance of roadless areas in protecting ecological systems (Henjum, et al. 1994; Quigley, et al. 1996; SNEP 1996; USDA, et al. 1993). Roadless areas are critical in maintaining water quality, biodiversity, and the ecological integrity of national forests. They provide essential habitat for sensitive plant and animal species. The fragile ecology of most roadless areas means that road construction and other forms of development within them pose serious threats to many of the economic goods and services that flow from public forestlands.

From an economic perspective, the ecological systems at issue are assets that provide economic value by satisfying a wide variety of human wants. Debates about the economics of public land use tend to focus on the commercial benefits of extractive activities such as timber harvesting, grazing, and mining. Such benefits are relatively easy to measure using market data. But this focus is too narrow. There are non-extractive uses for which markets are either incomplete or nonexistent, but which nonetheless provide significant economic value. For example, many people enjoy recreating in pristine forest environments. Although these activities may not be purchased in market transactions, the time and other goods that people give up in order to enjoy them provide evidence of their economic value. Existing wilderness areas in our national forests and national parks meet some of this recreational demand. But as these protected areas become increasingly congested, the recreational value increases for other roadless areas that are currently unprotected.

In addition to recreation and other non-extractive uses, pristine forestlands provide economic value that is independent of direct use. There is growing recognition that wilderness and biodiversity contribute to human well-being through their mere existence. Many Americans consider these to be important national treasures, the loss of which would diminish our well-being. This "existence value" is measurable in principle, and recent advances have improved its measurement in practice. In recognition of these advances, existence value is now included in damage assessments permitted by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment procedures implemented under the Oil Pollution Act and CERCLA. A growing body of empirical work in this area suggests that such values constitute a large portion of the total economic value of public forestlands. The substantial benefits from protecting roadless areas are documented in peer-reviewed scientific articles such as Walsh, Loomis, and Gillman (1984) and Pope and Jones (1990). Regarding the protection of Option 9 roadless areas, studies identifying the benefits of protecting spotted owl habitat include Rubin, Helfand, and Loomis (1991), Hagen, Vincent, and Welle (1992), and Brown, Layton, and Lazo (1994).

While the evidence suggests that protection of roadless areas would yield substantial benefits, such protection would also impose costs. At the national level, these costs may take the form of reductions in timber supply and resulting increases in wood product prices, while at the local level there is the potential for adverse impacts on employment and income in the timber industry. In particular, concerns recently have been expressed regarding potential job loss associated with protection of roadless areas covered under the spotted owl conservation plan (within which some timber harvesting is permitted under Option 9).

The probable sale quantities of timber within these areas, however, represent only a very small share of total timber production within the region, and thus cannot be expected to have a substantial impact on industry employment or earnings, or on timber prices. The total roadless area in the affected national forests within Washington, Oregon and Northern California is just over 3 million acres, of which approximately 318,000 acres are suitable for timber production under Option 9 (Johnson, et al., 1993). The probable sale quantity for these areas is approximately .07 billion board feet per year (Johnson, et al., 1993, Table 19). This is less than one percent of the total annual timber harvest in Oregon and Washington alone (Warren, 1997, Table 16).

These numbers should be kept in mind as your administration considers the inclusion of these lands in your roadless area initiative. The employment, income, and price impacts of protecting these areas are likely to be extremely small in percentage terms.

As wilderness becomes increasingly scarce, the recreational and existence values of our remaining roadless areas can be expected to increase over time relative to the value of extractive uses of these areas. Each acre that is lost makes preservation of the remaining acreage ever more valuable.

We commend you for your attention to the stewardship of our natural heritage, and we urge you to consider the economic benefits discussed above as you move toward a final decision on the management of our remaining unprotected roadless areas.

Sincerely yours,

Daniel A. Hagen
Associate Professor of Economics
Western Washington University
Bellingham, WA 98226-9074

Steven E. Henson
Associate Professor of Economics
Western Washington University

John B. Loomis
Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics
Colorado State University

Paul Barkley
Professor of Agricultural Economics
Washington State University

Gardner Brown
Professor of Economics
University of Washington

Anjali Bhat
Urban Researcher - Economic Policy Studies
East-West Gateway Coordinating Council

Douglas E. Booth
Associate Professor of Economics
Marquette University

Walter R. Butcher
Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics
Washington State University

Paul N. Courant
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Economics and Public Policy
Associate Provost for Academic and Budgetary Affairs
The University of Michigan

Eban Goodstein
Associate Professor of Economics
Lewis and Clark College

Steven C. Hackett
Associate Professor of Economics
Humboldt State University

George B. Heliker
Professor Emeritus of Economics
University of Montana

Ray G. Huffaker
Associated Professor
Department of Agricultural Economics
Washington State University

Renee Irvin
Assistant Professor of Public Administration
University of Nebraska at Omaha

Joe Kerkvliet
Associate Professor of Economics
Oregon State University

Jeffrey A. Krautkraemer
Professor of Economics
Washington State University

Dr. Michael V. Martin
Dean, College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences
and Acting Vice President for Agricultural Policy University of Minnesota

Ray Mikesell
Professor Emeritus
Department of Economics
University of Oregon

Don Negri
Associate Professor of Economics
Willamette University

Ernest G. Niemi
Economist, ECONorthwest
Eugene, Oregon

Tom Power
Chair, Department of Economics
University of Montana

Michael E. Righi
Chair, Economics Department
Bellevue Community College

Gundars Rudzitis
Professor of Economic Geography
University of Idaho

Tesa Stegner
Assistant Professor of Economics
Idaho State University

H. Joe Story
Professor of Economics
Pacific University

Tom Thomas
ISYS Consulting Services
Seattle, Washington

Robert Tokle
Professor of Economics
Idaho State University

Gene Tyner, Sr., Ph.D.
President, Tyner & Associates
Norman, Oklahoma

Philip Wandschneider
Department of Agricultural Economics
Washington State University

Ed Whitelaw
Professor of Economics
University of Oregon

Norman K. Whittlesey
Professor Emeritus
Department of Agricultural Economics
Washington State University


Brown, Gardner, D. Layton, and J. Lazo, 1994. "Valuing Habitat and Endangered Species," Institute for Economic Research Discussion Paper, University of Washington, Series #94-1.

Hagen, Daniel A., James W. Vincent, and Patrick G. Welle, 1992. "Benefits of Preserving Old-Growth Forests and the Northern Spotted Owl." Contemporary Policy Issues, 10, No. 2, 13-26.

Henjum, M.G., J.R. Karr, D.L. Bottom, D.A. Perry, J.C. Bednarz, S.G. Wright, S.A.Beckwitt and E. Beckwitt, 1994. Interim protection for late-successional forests, fisheries, and watersheds: National forests east of the Cascade crest, Oregon and Washington. The Wildlife Society Technical Review 94-2. Bethesda, MD.

Johnson, K.N., S. Crim, K. Barber, M. Howell, and C. Caldwell, 1993. "Sustainable Harvest Levels and Short-Term Timber Sales for Options Considered in the Report of the Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team: Methods, Results, and Interpretations."

Pope, C.A., III and Jones, J.W., 1990. "Value of wilderness designation in Utah." Journal of Environmental Management, 30, 157-174.

Rubin, J., Helfand, G., Loomis, J., 1991. "A Benefit-Cost-Analysis of the Northern Spotted Owl - Results from a Contingent Valuation Survey," Journal of Forestry, 89(12), 25-30.

Quigley, Thomas M., Richard W. Haynes, and Russell T. Graham, tech. eds., 1996. Integrated Scientific Assessment for Ecosystem Management in the Interior Columbia Basin and Portions of the Klamath and Great Basins. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-382.

Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project (SNEP), 1996. Final Report to Congress, Volume I, Assessment summaries and management strategies.

Centers for Water and Wildland Resources, University of California, Davis, CA. USDA, USDC, USDI, and EPA. 1993. Forest ecosystem management: An ecological, economic, and social assessment. USDA Forest Service. Portland, OR.

Walsh, R., J. Loomis and R. Gillman, 1994. "Valuing Option, Existence, and Bequest Demands for Wilderness," Land Economics, 60(1), 14-29.

Warren, D.D. 1997. Production, Prices, Employment, and Trade in Northwest Forest Industries, First Quarter 1997. USDA Forest Service. Portland, OR.
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