When making a financial investment, you likely choose something that will prove to be resilient during tough times while serving you well in the long-term. Nature is similar. The healthier and more diverse it is – the higher its returns.
Kentucky’s Nature Portfolio
According to Friends of Kentucky Nature Preserves, the Commonwealth is home to more than 19,000 native animal and plant species, including more than 100 that occur only in the state. That makes for an impressive nature portfolio.
Take forests. In the midst of urbanization and agriculture, Kentucky’s forests and wetlands buffer the landscape during extreme weather events. At their healthiest, these habitats also filter air and water and absorb rainfall to reduce flooding. Unfortunately Kentucky has lost approximately 81 percent of its original forested wetland acreage found in the 1780’s, putting it in the top 10 states with most wetland acreage by percent lost. It has been estimated that 55 percent of the species identified as either threatened or endangered by the State of Kentucky or the federal government depend on wetlands at some point during their life.
The Bluegrass State also boasts one of the most diverse freshwater mussel populations in North America. Once common in rivers and streams before deteriorating water quality left many threatened or endangered, freshwater mussels can remove bacteria, algae and small particles from up to eight gallons of water per day.
Similarly subtle are earthworms. Mostly out of sight except for during the occasional rainstorm, earthworms aerate and nourish Kentucky’s soils while guiding water and nourishment towards trees, shrubs, crops and other living organisms. Up in the air, bees, bats, birds and butterflies advance pollination – a global process that facilitates reproduction in 90 percent of the world’s flowering plants.
These species and the habitats in which they reside make up ecosystems, which support all life on Earth. Ecosystem services are the things nature gives us — clean water and air, fertile soils, storm protection and flood control — for free. They are also directly tied to our economies in the way of food, fuel, recreation and tourism.
But can we quantify the benefits nature gives us — not just aesthetic, but tangible?
The answer is YES. But measuring just how much nature’s benefits are worth to a community or the world isn’t easy. Often, the tremendous importance and economic value of these benefits are appreciated only upon their loss.
More and more, scientists realize natural systems are critical to economic health, along with humanity's general well-being. Economists realize a healthy environment is needed to sustain growth. It’s a way of thinking that is changing the face of conservation.
Respecting the dynamic connection between economy and ecology drives much of the Conservancy's work in Kentucky. It’s why we are able to count many corporations and government agencies among our partners. It’s also what led the Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund and Stanford University to found the Natural Capital Project [link], aimed at helping governments and industry incorporate the value of nature’s benefits into their business models and decision-making processes.
Together, we’re providing tools that help decision-makers protect biodiversity and secure full benefits from ecosystems. We’re also developing new financial, market and policy instruments that fund the protection of ecosystem services in a fair and credible manner. Once achieved, we’ll really be putting these landscapes to work.