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Feasibility of Quantifying Returns from Forest Service Research and Development Programs
Feb 26, 2013
 Acres managed, miles of riparian habitat restored, gallons of fresh water provided, populations of wildlife conserved – all are important metrics of natural resources management and will continue to be important measures defining programmatic impact. However, it is becoming increasingly necessary, during constrained budgetary times, staffing declines, and demands for science increasing to understand and communicate the value of research and development if a case is to be made to retain (or even expand) research and development budgets. It is the purpose of this research to briefly explore the opportunities to measure project outcomes across multiple avenues and discuss selected approaches that have been successfully applied elsewhere. The research also examines the feasibility of evaluating Forest Service R&D projects, bearing in mind that doing so requires that the outcome metrics need to be quantifiable, meaningful, and accessible.

The purpose is not to force implementation of some method of measuring returns and benefits. Instead, the purpose of this project is to determine if measuring returns and benefits is practical and feasible, the extent that they can be measured (some projects may never be feasibly quantified), and how quantification efforts can be developed and conducted. Gaining a greater understanding of the breadth of research topics/areas to be considered is an important next step. We need to explore the following:
  • What types of projects will need to be evaluated (topics, scale)?
  • In what ways can these projects be quantified monetarily?
  • Who is the audience to which the figures will be presented, and in what terms would they be interested in seeing projects compared?
  • What criterion can be logically required of field personnel to amend to current project output to best inform a potential tool to evaluate projects?
This paper discusses the evolving needs for quantifying, measuring, and reporting the economic value provided by selected wildlife, fish, and related aquatic research performed by Forest Service Research and Development (R&D). This effort will explore varying approaches for measuring returns to research and development in general and applications of such approaches in natural resources areas and fish and wildlife management. The purpose of this paper is to provide a basis for further discussions with Forest Service R&D personnel on the feasibility and proper approaches for measuring and reporting the value of research and development.

Applications of economic valuation and financial metrics can be both forward- and backward-looking. They can be applied ex-post to evaluate impacts of research. This is the case for many studies presented here. They can also be applied ex-ante in research proposals to estimate potential future benefits associated with the proposed research relative to investments. The broader the base of ex-post analysis the better the ex-ante estimates become.

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