• Attitudes towards land use and development in the Mat-Su: Empirical evidence on economic values of ecosystem services

      Schwörer, Tobias (Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage, 2014-04-25)
      In communities that largely depend on the extraction of natural resources, attitudes towards conservation and development may seem at odds or particularly rigid. With an unprecedented wealth of natural capital, a growing mining sector, strong oil and gas industry, and a politically conservative population, Alaska serves as a case study to measure such attitudes. This research was motivated by a lack of primary ecosystem service valuation studies in Alaska that could be used to assess the public’s perceived value of ecosystem services in order to guide future land use decisions and incentivize land use decisions that minimize negative externalities. A choice experiment was conducted with 224 households in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the fastest growing region in Alaska and one of the fastest growing regions in the U.S. Rapid development with few restrictions has led to changes for local ecosystems particularly important to salmon, negative effects on access related to recreation and tourism, and caused conversion of valuable farmland. Study results show that attitudes and values vary regarding future land use and economic development efforts. On average, policy action to improve conditions for local salmon stocks are most valuable to local residents followed by protecting farm and ranch lands as well as public access to recreation sites. Conversely, residents show negative preferences towards rapid population growth and developing local mining, oil and gas, and timber resources but support developing a professional and technical services sector. The quantified welfare changes related to different development scenarios show that focusing on conserving valuable ecosystem services is in the public’s best interest.