Resources and Tools
by Kristen E. Humphrey, Local Assistance and Training Planner
Have you ever thought about, much less tried to assess, the economic benefits that open spaces and various types of natural ecosystems such as forests, wetlands and riparian zones have in non-development terms? How does one begin to quantify and put a price tag on carbon sequestration, flood mitigation, wildlife habitat or oxygen production? These are the questions that a powerful tool developed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) aims to answer.
Launched one year ago this month, the DNR-created GreenPrint/Parcel Evaluation Tool is a means to evaluate the conservation benefits and ecosystem “value” of every parcel of land across the state of Maryland. The GreenPrint map displays Targeted Ecological Areas (TEAs), lands, and watersheds of high ecological value that have been identified as conservation priorities by DNR.
“The Parcel Evaluation Tool was created to reveal the relative importance of natural areas across the state that typically may not be considered when making land use decisions” says Dr. Elliott Campbell, Director, at the Center for Economic and Social Science at DNR, “whether one is looking at the state, regional or municipal level, or even on an individual parcel basis”.
As part of DNR’s mission to “lead Maryland in securing a sustainable future for our environment, society, and economy by preserving, protecting, restoring, and enhancing the State’s natural resources,” the Center focuses on developing tools for and analyses of DNR’s programs and actions. Dr. Campbell describes this as supporting DNR’s “triple bottom line” of promoting social, economic, and ecological well-being.
The tool has clear applications and is accessible to and readily used by everyone from county and municipal planning organizations setting land use priorities, to conservation groups and land trusts seeking to acquire and preserve land in ecologically sensitive areas. It is also a valuable tool for private citizens interested in the “non-traditional” value of their property when considering whether to develop it, donate it for preservation, or preserve it themselves. It is a simple, user-friendly tool with which a user can either type in an address or click anywhere on an interactive map of the state to run a report revealing data and actual dollar figures to help determine these non-traditional or “non-market” values of a parcel.
The Tool runs a Conservation Benefits report that generates data, which Dr. Campbell says “helps to inform parties in their decision-making process” by thinking, possibly for the first time, in both qualitative and quantitative terms, by finding out how their land scores on a variety of indicators. The report can be summarized in a pdf and used to compare the conservation benefits of different land parcels.
On the qualitative side, described as the Benefits Rating, the criteria include whether a parcel has or supports habitat connectivity (the opportunity for wildlife to migrate from one area to another via safe “corridors” connecting them), rare species and wildlife habitat, aquatic life, forests that are important for water quality protection, and other key environmental factors.
On the quantitative side, described as Ecosystem Services, the tool calculates an approximate monetary value for the environmental functions a parcel performs, such as air pollution removal for ozone and various particulate matters, carbon sequestration, groundwater recharge, stormwater mitigation, among numerous others. It is important to note that while approximate dollar figures are assigned to these various functions, the Ecosystem Service value does not equate to a “fair market appraisal” of a property or parcel of land.
Later this year, DNR will be releasing the underlying map layers of the tool for public access through Maryland iMap.These layers will enable users to view the underlying data from across the state displayed on GreenPrint and download the spatial data; allowing them to comparatively analyze at any desired spatial level (e.g., neighborhood, municipal, county, regional) using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software.
Interested parties are encouraged to try out the GreenPrint/Parcel Evaluation Tool. An instruction manual is available on DNR’s website and more information about GreenPrint Lands and Targeted Ecological Areas (TEAs) can be found in a PowerPoint presentation and users are encouraged to contact Elliott Campbell, Director, Center for Economic and Social Science at firstname.lastname@example.org, Christine Conn, Director, Office of Science and Stewardship at email@example.com, or Kevin Coyne, Director, Center for Geospatial Products and Services at firstname.lastname@example.org, with any questions or to offer feedback.