Communities along the US coast are highly vulnerable to coastal storms. Trends in population growth, climatic events and land use are likely to exacerbate future damages. Coastal management entities are faced with decisions about how to manage resources in a manner that improves environmental quality and provides the maximum benefit for coastal populations. This is particularly true along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, where coastal storms are common, land loss is rapid and billions of dollars are allotted for coastal restoration projects. Many of these projects are intended to mitigate hurricane damages by using wetlands as storm buffers. The physical science literature shows that wetlands do provide situational protection from storm surge. However, little economic analysis has explored the effect of wetlands on economic losses. This analysis uses hurricane simulation data to estimate county- or parish-level damages based on observed damages from coastal storms making landfall in Louisiana from 1995-2008. A model describing these damages as a function of wetland area, socio-economic conditions and storm intensity allows the estimation of the value of wetlands for their protective ecosystem services under various contexts and future scenarios. Potential sources of error are discussed and examples are analyzed. The implications of these finding are significant for coastal restoration decisions in a changing environment.


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