Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

Empirical Analyses of Forestry Interactions with Climate Uncertainty and Threatened Species

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  • Forests are highly valuable resources providing both timber as well as many non-use values like habitat for various endangered and threatened species, carbon sequestration, and recreation, to name a few. Given that there are 765 million acres of forestland in the United States, almost 60% of which are privately owned, private forest management decisions may have a profound impact on our forest resources, the forest landscape, and the level of non-timber benefits they provide. Because many non-timber forest benefits, particularly habitat for threatened and endangered species, do not have market values and are external to private landowners’ management decisions, they tend to be underprovided, highlighting a significant market failure. Conservation policies are one tool to correct this market failure, but the design and implementation of effective policies can be challenging, oftentimes due to the lack of data on their economic costs and benefits. Climate change presents additional challenges as it not only interacts directly with forest ecosystems, but also presents new incentives for landowners to adapt through their management decisions. Understanding how forest owners adapt to climate change and how climate uncertainty affects the timing of adaptation decisions is essential information for effective policy design. This dissertation consists of two analyses that explore the relationship between climate uncertainty, forest management, and the economic benefits of endangered species conservation. The first analysis presents an empirical study of climate change adaptation in forestry in the Eastern United states where landowners have incentives to adapt by planting southern pine species in favor of hardwood forests. It uses theoretical insights from option value theory to evaluate how future climate uncertainty affects the timing of adaptive planting decisions. The results show that climate uncertainty can significantly slow the rate of adaptation and that adaptation paths are highly sensitive to the level of uncertainty. Since natural hardwood forests are more biodiverse than pine plantations, results suggest that an important source of future conservation uncertainty arises from the economic response of private forest landowners to climate uncertainty. The second analysis develops an empirical framework for estimating the economic benefits of a conservation policy that changes private landowner behavior and directly affects the abundance of a threatened species, with an application to riparian forest buffers and Coho salmon in the state of Oregon. Results suggest that the current size of the no-cut riparian buffer on private forestland is inefficiently small, and that the optimal size exists somewhere between 60 and 120 ft. To my knowledge, these results present the first empirical economic estimation of the optimal size of riparian buffers for the recovery of a threatened species.
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  • Funding for part of this dissertation was provided by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture
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