The value of wetland property can be two very different things for a landowner and for society in general. Researchers for Louisiana State University are trying to quantify how much certain characteristics of wetlands add or detract from the land’s market value.
More than 70 percent of wetlands are owned privately. The information could be used to develop incentives for private landowners to maintain their property.
Researcher Walter Kiethly with the Center for Natural Resource Economics and Policy explained the value of wetland property has two primary forms: the land’s market value and the land’s value to society through things like fish nurseries and hurricane protection.
Some societal values are difficult to quantify. For example, a fisheries value can be calculated through its profitability to those in the corresponding industries. But the value of wetlands for hurricane protection is difficult to calculate because it isn’t bought or sold on an open market, he said.
Such information could be useful for setting accurate insurance rates depending on the amount of wetland protecting a property from storms.
Unfortunately, society’s values do not always correspond with the motivations and values of those who control the land, Keithly said.
“Most of the value does not accrue to the owners. They value them differently. The owners usually have a much lower value than society because the owner cannot personally capture all the benefit,” Keithly said.
Dwayne Bourgeois, director of the North Lafourche Levee District, explained that owning wetlands could almost be considered a liability because of strict regulations limiting the land’s use.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plays a role in managing the nation’s wetlands by requiring owners to repair, or “mitigate,” any effect on wetlands if the owner can prove the effect is unavoidable.
This is done through the creation or restoration of other wetlands or by purchasing mitigation credits through a mitigation bank — either way, the process can be expensive.
Research by the two found the owner’s ability to make money off the land drives its market value and thus its value to the owner.
“It tends to be related to the income. Wetland properties are more conducive to duck hunting, obtain a higher prices value in the market or things like alligator egg collection,” Keithly said.
Encouragingly, the market value of wetland property does correspond with the condition of the property, Keithly said.
Through interviews with land owners, the researchers are now trying to quantify how much value particular characteristics add or detract from the land’s value. For example fresh marsh tended to be more valuable than brackish in previous research.
Compared to wetlands to the west, those in Terrebonne and Lafourche are more difficult to value because the of the dynamism of the wetlands that can change form from storm to storm, he said.
The research looks to establish what characteristics add value to the owners. That information could be used to identify ways to encourage protection of the wetlands.
A successful example of that is the nutria bounty in which the government pays private citizens per nutria killed because the rodent wreaks havoc on wetland vegetation.
Bourgeois noted there are some incentives offered to wetland owners. The Natural Resources Conservation Service offers landowners a one time stipend to add their land to a conservation servitude to protect them in perpetuity. Some have discussed exempting from property taxes wetlands properly maintained by the owner.
Keithly said their research could also help inform government on how to most efficiently spend conservation dollars.
“It is additional information for the state’s and the parishes to use in determining how they may spend money that comes available,” Keithly said.