St. Louis River Watershed’s Economic Benefits Defined

Many residents in the Western Lake Superior region would describe the St. Louis River and watershed as “priceless.” But putting a specific dollar value on these ecosystem services, while difficult, is helpful, particularly when considering projects with the potential for negative impacts.

To reach an ecosystem value figure, project partners combined NOAA’s land cover data with spatial and ecosystem services facts. They found the St. Louis River watershed provides approximately $5 to $14 billion in benefits to people each year. These benefits include outdoor recreation, commercial navigation, and vegetation that filters and absorbs floodwater. Taking the long view, which was seven generations, and considering benefits such freshwater supplies and carbon storage through forests and wetlands, economists found the value of this watershed to be in the $273 to $687 billion range.

The St. Louis River flows for nearly 200 miles, draining a 2.4-million-acre area in northeastern Minnesota and a small part of Wisconsin. This ecosystem not only powers the regional economy but is home to Native American sacred sites and cultural touchstones such as wild rice harvesting.

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Partners: 1854 Treaty Authority, Earth Economics, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, NOAA Office for Coastal Management, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, University of Minnesota – Duluth