Securing New Jersey’s Natural Capital:Nature’s Top Dollar Value

May 18, 2009   //   by PlanSmart NJ   //   Speaks Out Blog  //  Comments Off on Securing New Jersey’s Natural Capital:Nature’s Top Dollar Value

by Noelle Reeve, AICP,PP

It still goes slightly against the grain of this environmental planner, originally from “Super Natural British Columbia,” to think about putting a price tag on nature. I’m not talking about the price we place on commodities nature provides, such as timber or fish, but about the services we receive that may appear invisible when we first look at a landscape. These services arise from the relationship among the various plants and animals and geographic systems that make up ecosystems. We don’t readily see wetland plants filtering pollutants or storing water to prevent flooding; we don’t readily see trees removing greenhouse gases from the air. We have traditionally taken these benefits for granted as free services and without a dollar value, society has so undervalued these services they have been treated as worthless.

The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment publishedby the United Nations in 2003, determined that worldwide, fifteen of the twenty four ecosystems services examined had been degraded, including water supply, natural hazard protection, improvement of air quality, waste treatment and detoxification, cultural benefits, etc. In the past, New Jersey, as every other state, filled in its wetlands, cut down its forests, paved over its agricultural land and polluted its waterways because there was, until recently, no reckoning of the financial and environmental cost of losing the ecosystem benefits these lands provide.

In 2007, New Jersey became the first state to estimate the dollar value of its natural capital. At a staggering $20 billion/year, or three-quarters of the 2009 state budget, replacing the natural capital of the state would be impossible, even if scientists fully understood and could replicate nature’s services.

In this time of evaporating financial returns, natural capital represents an asset whose value is increasing as more and more economists assign dollar values to the economic benefits that healthy ecosystems provide over an extended period of time and more and more markets develop for these services.

So how can New Jersey’s natural capital be secured? Parks and protected areas are the basis of conservation, but by themselves are not enough. Land use planning changes are needed to get away from site by site decisions that erode New Jersey’s natural capital assets. Because land use is largely controlled by municipalities, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection funded Protecting New Jersey’s Natural Capital Through Land Use Planning: Opportunities and Challenges, PlanSmartNJ’s latest report.

On this year’s Earth Day, PlanSmart NJ would like to encourage municipal officials, environmental commissions, planners and interested citizens to read the report and contact us if you are interested in:

  • learning how to account for natural capital in the Capital Improvement Plan to reduce the need for engineered solutions to stormwater management and other infrastructure expenditures;
  • receiving compensation for the capacity to sequester carbon within your community;
  • understanding your municipal and regional natural capital values to protect them in the Land Use Element of your Master Plan; or
  • exploring other ways to protect natural capital.

Recognizing and protecting New Jersey’s natural capital is the basis for wise land use planning; the unfolding Green Economy; and for resilience to climate change. To learn more about PlanSmartNJ’s proposals for land use reforms for a better New Jersey see Improving Conditions on the Ground.

Noelle Reeve was the Vice President of Planning for PlanSmart NJ, a Trenton-based statewide research and advocacy group focused on sound land use planning and regional cooperation. For more information, email us at

Comments are closed.

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for our Email Newsletter
For Email Marketing you can trust