Paul Barten can show you that not all forested properties are created equal when it comes to water supply protection.  He can also show you that bigger is not necessarily better.  Barten, Professor of Forest Resources in the Department of Environmental Conservation, in conjunction with Yanli Zhang, former graduate student, and other colleagues from the department, developed the Conservation Priority Index (CPI); a GIS (geographic information systems), or map-based tool to score and rank forestland parcels according to a number of site-specific attributes.  These attributes include such things as land use, distance to water bodies, terrain, soil permeability and other hydrologic and morphologic site characteristics that affect the quality of ground and surface waters flowing through the property. 

Barten’s work on the Conservation Priority Index began after being asked to serve on a National Research Council of the National Academies review board which had been charged with examining New York City’s watershed management strategy.  It was there that a “more is better” (more land, bigger parcels) philosophy drove land protection, and there that Barten and others realized there were factors more significant than mere size influencing a parcel’s ability to filter and protect the valuable water resources flowing through it.

Teaming up with the US Forest Service, and Trust for Public Land, Barten continued development of the  CPI to help communities critically examine their watershed management programs, and to prioritize forestland conservation on parcels whose forests were most critical to water quality.

The net result of all this work: with the CPI, Professor Barten can show you just which parcels are likely to have the greatest impact on water quality, so that ever-scare funding for land protection might best be spent to provide for the greatest net benefit.

Paul Barten’s work was highlighted by author Hannah Kett in “Mapping the Value of Watershed Services” an Ecosystem Marketplace’s news article. The Ecosystem Marketplace is a leading source of news, data, and analytics on markets and payments for ecosystem services (such as water quality, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity).