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Elliott Forest, other natural features, have 'existence value'

Just knowing the Elliott Forest is there is enough for some Oregonians.

COURTESY OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY - Trees in the Elliott State Forest.Although most Oregonians in the Portland area will never visit the Elliott State Forest, a 82,500-acre swath of state trust land near the Southern Oregon coast that, until recently, was up for sale to a timber company, there's some evidence to suggest the state's residents seem to just like knowing it's there.

In a 2014 report commissioned by the Oregon Department of State Lands, researchers cited state data from 2006 and 2008 finding that Oregonians derived pleasure from knowing salmon exist — not necessarily from using or doing activities relevant to salmon.

A passage on salmon from the report captures the notion of "existence value," a theory of natural resource economics, nicely:

"...the vast majority of Oregonians do not fish but still value salmon for other, "non-use" reasons. The non-use values of salmon include the bequest value of conserving salmon populations for future generations; the altruistic value of ensuring others are able to fish for salmon today; the option value for fishing or viewing salmon themselves sometime in the future; and the value of simply knowing that salmon exist."

The idea might provide some insight into the public outcry over selling the land: Oregonians of an environmental bent take pride in and place value on the idea of the Elliott.

The idea of existence value has its roots in the Northwest — the concept was pioneered by an environmental economist named John Krutilla, a Reed- and Harvard-educated Tacoma, Wash., native.