Huge economic benefits but little market value
Prairies provide society with many services which deliver huge economic benefits but unfortunately have little or no market values. It is equally clear that technological fixes for “lost services” can be very expensive.
We are all familiar with a traditional definition of “capital” in the form of investments, facilities, and equipment. The term “natural capital” has come to mean the resources we use both non-renewable (petroleum, minerals) and renewable (forests, farms, prairies). Of the renewable, we usually think of them in terms of desirable products (food, lumber, fiber)however, their most important value lies in the services they provide
These services are related to the tangible products but are distinct from the resources. Living systems feed us, protect us, clean our environment, help us breathe, and heal us both in body and spirit:
Climate: native vegetation contributes to the maintenance of balance in the atmosphere by sequestering carbon in the soil, absorbing methane and ameliorating other harmful compounds.
Biodiversity: prairies contain a large and diverse genetic library. In the future we may depend on this diverse source for new foods, fiber, fuels or medicinal products.
Weather: the mix of prairie, forest, agriculture and development has important but subtle impacts on each regions temperature, precipitation, and other weather patterns.
Pollination: many crops in our food supply depend on the service of pollinators from nearby non-agricultural fields. Similarly agricultural crops benefit through reduced pests from bio-control agents such as bats, birds and insects.
Water: prairie landscapes play an important role in the conservation of soil and water. Ground water is purified through infiltration. Since prairies can absorb 2-3 times the amount of rainfall as an agricultural field, runoff can be reduced and flooding minimized as water is gradually metered out to streams and rivers.
Recreation: promoting prairie areas and native vegetation can bring beauty, health and enjoyment to our lives. Hiking, observing nature’s diversity, or enjoying color changes in the autumn are truly life affirming.