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March 10, 2004

Contact: Erin Phalon
(609) 984-1795

Department of Environmental Protection Awarded $200,000 for Study on Economic Value of Ecosystems

(04/13) TRENTON - Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today announced that the DEP has been selected to receive $200,000 in grants to be used to assess the economic value of services provided by New Jersey's natural ecosystems. The $200,000 award includes $150,000 in grants from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, of Morristown, and $50,000 from Philadelphia's William Penn Foundation.

The study funded by these grants will be among the first in the United States to assess the value of the major ecosystems of an entire state. When complete, the analysis will include a comprehensive report on the value of New Jersey's natural capital by land type and ecosystem service, including maps showing the level of that value at varying spatial scales.

"Natural resources provide valuable services to millions of New Jersey residents," said Campbell. "Quantifying the value of New Jersey's natural resource services will provide a basis for making better policy choices and demonstrate the links between healthy ecosystems and a strong economy. The Geraldine R. Dodge and William Penn Foundations have given the DEP a unique opportunity, and I appreciate their generosity as well as their recognition of the study's merit."

Undisturbed resources in the environment provide ecosystem services. For example, wetlands provide a valuable service by absorbing stormwater runoff and releasing it slowly. This service would cost millions of dollars to replace if the wetlands were drained and developed. Thus, the economic value of wetland ecosystems is high.

"This is an innovative undertaking that will draw nationally known experts into conservation and smart growth discussions in our region," said William Penn Foundation Program Officer Andrew Johnson. "We're particularly excited about the project's potential to leverage the effectiveness of New Jersey's policies in protecting watershed resources."

The Dodge Foundation's $150,000 award to the DEP reflects its focus on land-use issues and the protection of natural resources across New Jersey. However, David Grant, Executive Director of the Dodge Foundation, noted that his agency seldom awards grants to government agencies but made an exception due to "the compelling nature" of the DEP's proposal.

"Once the services of the state's ecosystems have been translated into economic terms, it will be less difficult for decision-makers to weigh those values against the potential values of growth and development and what it might cost to replace those services," said Grant. "In short, they will be able to see in rather stark terms what is at stake when natural areas - forests, fields, wetlands - are lost to sprawl."

When completed, the natural resource assessment's findings are expected to become an important reference point in land use debates and related policy decisions at the state and local levels. The assessment will improve the DEP's ability to make economically sound decisions on the levels of natural resource damage assessments (NRDA).

In addition, the assessment will enable local planners and planning boards to provide estimates of ecosystem value at the local level to develop municipal master plans. Such plans, together with local zoning regulations, are primary determinants of the land uses that will be permitted in specific municipalities.

Improved identification of areas that provide especially valuable ecosystem services information could also help municipalities and the state better establish conservation and restoration priorities and target funding for Open Space acquisition.

DEP personnel could begin to work on the economic assessment as early as May 2004.





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