The value of public spaces

Land Use Board struggles to assign value to noncommercial land

The Bureau of Land Management's revised resource management plan for the Little Snake Field Office could affect, among other things, housing prices, retail expenditures, agriculture production, the future of mineral extraction and the volume of revenues needed to support local government.

The Moffat County Land Use Board worked to gain a grasp on the land uses that will affect these factors at the board's monthly meeting Monday.

Andy Seidl, a professor with Colorado State University's Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics, and Jim Pedersen, principal planner for Pedersen Planning Consultants of Encampment, Wyo., attempted to provide the board with a method to value the economic and social values of various land uses and management strategies.

But the experts struggled to provide the board with a method of valuing certain noncommercial land uses, such as conserving endangered species habitat or wilderness preservation.

"You run into some real problems trying to put economic value on things people don't quantify in those terms," Seidl said.

He suggested assembling community focus groups or conducting community surveys to investigate the importance of noncommercial land uses.

In instances where values cannot be quantified, it is sometimes preferable to accept the management alternative that causes the least harm, he said.

Pedersen discouraged the board from attempting to find the national public's position on issues pertinent to the resource management plan, saying that is the BLM's job.

"I hope communities start with what's in their heart," Pedersen said.

Almost all of the board members also are active members of the Northwest Colorado Stewardship, a residents group that is working closely with the Little Snake Field Office during the resource management plan revision.

It's the goal of the stewardship to advise the local field office about the values the community would like to have incorporated in the plan revision.

As far as quantitative values are concerned, Pedersen recommended the board use models to assess the monetary values particular land uses would have. Some of these values would be arbitrary, he said, but the rationale for the assumed values would be well documented if he ran the model.

A presentation he prepared for the board included an offer for services at a price dependent on the information the board desired to obtain.

Seidl suggested that the board consider how land-management decisions will affect future generations as well as other species, what policy levers could be used to convince a community to accept an undesirable land use and to what extent economics can influence a decision.

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