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Keywords:

  • choice experiment;
  • contingent valuation;
  • Cottonwood;
  • human dimensions;
  • Populus;
  • Saltcedar;
  • Tamarix

Abstract

River restoration is a widespread phenomenon. This reflects strong public values for conservation, though missing are studies explicitly justifying restoration expenditures. Public restoration benefits are not well quantified, nor are public preferences among diverse activities falling into the broad category “restoration.” Our study estimates public values for restoration on the Middle Rio Grande, New Mexico. Stakeholder meetings and public focus groups guided development of a restoration survey mailed to Albuquerque area households. Four restoration categories were defined: fish and wildlife; vegetation density; tree type; and natural river processes. Survey responses supplied data for both choice experiment (CE) and contingent valuation (CV) analyses, two established environmental economics techniques for quantifying public benefits of conservation policies. Full restoration benefits are estimated at over $150 per household per year via the CE and at nearly $50 per household per year via CV. The CE allows value disaggregation among different restoration categories. The most highly valued category was tree type, meaning reestablishing native tree dominance for such species as Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) and eradicating non-native trees such as Saltcedar (Tamarix ramosissma). The high public values we have found for restoration offer economic justification for intensive riparian management, particularly native plant-based restoration in the Southwest.