Financial agents, water quality and riparian forest buffers
Surface water in the Midwest has high levels of nonpoint source pollution, which can be decreased by riparian forest buffers. In an effort to investigate the attitudes of financial professionals (bankers, land appraisers, realtors, etc.) regarding water quality and riparian buffers, a mail-out survey was conducted in 2001 in the Mark Twain Lake watershed in Northeast Missouri. The survey was preceded by a focus group, and followed by a series of contacts to increase response rate. Results suggest that riparian buffer knowledge is fairly low (mean of 2.66, with 1 being Very Low and 5 being Very High). Most professionals do not discuss buffers with landowner-clients when considering options for improving soil conservation and water quality (68% never discuss buffers). Survey participants are concerned about water quality, and want an increase from 6.17 currently to 7.41 as the acceptable level, on a ten-point scale. On average, they are willing to pay US$6.50 per month for the improvement. Buffers are considered an asset overall by 90%, when considering market and non-market (conservation) benefits and government assistance. When market (financial) benefits exclusively are considered, only 46% think that buffers are a net asset. The Spearman Rank Correlation method indicated a linear association between the professionals' knowledge level of buffers and the frequency with which they discuss buffers with clients (r[Subscript s]=0.49). Proliferation of buffers in Northeast Missouri seems to be limited by the lack of perceived financial value of buffers and the relatively low level of knowledge of buffers. Considering policy implications, three main conclusions can be drawn from the study. First, the professionals surveyed would like to see government involvement in funding buffers. Second, the professionals' relatively low knowledge level of buffers seems to be associated with their disinterest in discussing buffers with clients. Finally, the professionals surveyed seem to perceive the main problem with buffers as financial. Given this, if related legislation (i.e. Conservation Reserve Program) is more flexible in the future in allowing added financial gains for the landowner (i.e. harvesting provisions), it would certainly be more appealing to business-minded financial professionals.