Researchers studying coastal land values to aid preservation efforts

It’s no surprise that some coastal wetlands are more valuable than others, but the question several researchers at LSU are trying to answer is how much more valuable.

Walter Keithly, associate professor and Richard Kazmierczak, professor with the Center for Natural Resource Economics and Policy, are surveying coastal landowners to see how they use their properties and what income they generate from it whether it’s duck hunting leases or alligator trapping.

“Private individuals will generally only value the land based on market values,” Kazmierczak said.

Keithly said generally two types of value can be attributed to wetlands — their value to society either through hurricane protection or as a fishery nursery and the private value that accounts for the income generated from these wetlands.

Previous work by the two scientists focused on looking at whether there are characteristics of coastal wetlands that create a more valuable landscape for the private landowner.

The answer was yes. A follow-up study looked at what motivated private landowners to do protection or restoration of their coastal wetlands and what kinds of investments they’d be willing to make. Most of that incentive was based on what the land was used for to generate income, Kazmierczak said.

“What really surprised us was there was quite a bit of investment going on,” Kazmierczak said.

Preliminary results from the new study, which was funded from the Louisiana Sea Grant, are expected by the end of next summer and will work towards quantifying in dollar amounts the commercial value of differences in habitat.

The effort involves surveying coastal landowners about their property and the amount of money they generate from different uses. That information will be overlaid on habitat maps of the basin to correlate the value with the wetland type.

“The value of that habitat to society and private landowners is unknown,” Kazmierczak said.

The goal is to be able to create a statistical model that will be able to link the types of habitat on a property to an overall value. Then, that information can be broken out into how much certain habitats are worth on their own.

Such detailed information could be useful as a part of the overall look into prioritizing which coastal restoration projects should be funded first, depending on the goal of the restoration program for an area.

At the same time, the researchers are working with scientific colleagues in Mississippi on a study looking at the entire Gulf Coast. The LSU researchers will focus on finding the physical characteristics of the wetlands and the Mississippi researchers focusing on what built infrastructure is located on that property.

That will help answer the question for certain properties of, “What’s really important here. Is it the built infrastructure or is it the habitat,” Kazmierczak said.

Results of the Gulf-wide study should be available in about a year and a half.

The research is critical because much of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands are privately owned, Louisiana Sea Grant director Robert Twilley said .

By knowing how and why a tract of land is valuable to a landowner, he said, policy makers can get a better idea of what incentives would work best to encourage those landowners to invest in conservation and restoration of coastal wetlands.

“We can start having that conversation and understanding value,” Twilley said.