Economics ETDs

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Forests and trees may play important roles in human health outcomes and choices made by individuals in urban areas. Disruptions to forest amenities and tree canopy coverage caused by shocks to the natural environment may affect urban air quality, behavioral decisions, time use habits, and environmental management. This work exploits two distinct and unrelated shocks to forests in the United States to investigate the environmental and health economic links in urban areas between people and trees, and a proposed deeply ingrained role for environmental health in how people live, interact, optimize in their communities. The first chapter argues that environmental quality and forest amenities are important determinants of health and behavioral patterns in urban areas. The conclusion is that further investigations into the indirect market and nonmarket effects of forests and trees on the urban economy are necessary to better guide self-investments in health and management of natural resources. Chapter 2 examines one mechanism through which shocks to the natural environment caused by forest fires in the Mountain West affect health in high-density communities distant from the flame zone. Using a case study wildfire event in eastern Arizona that brought smoke over Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2011, this chapter advances the methodology by which wildfire smoke damages are assessed by modifying a relatively new US EPA benefit transfer computer program, coupling it with original household survey data, and demonstrating how it can be applied to wildfire smoke events. This chapter concludes that not only are wildfire smoke events costly in urban areas, but that perhaps wildfire smoke is more toxic to health than conventional urban air pollution, necessitating more deliberate and nuanced choices by analysts tasked with estimating the damages of wildfire events. Chapter 3 exploits a different shock to forest cover, caused by the emerald ash borer (EAB), to investigate heterogeneity in urban invasive species management when health is directly accounted for by environmental managers and policymakers. Simulation results show that accounting for health impacts associated with lost tree cover increases net benefits of management by more than 1100% in a combined management model and leads to mortality reductions of 21 persons over 50 years and 5,500 cases of reduced morbidity over the same time period for a representative EAB infested county in the US. Additionally, results indicate that a one size fits all' management approach may be inappropriate for responding to large-scale invasive species infestations due to heterogeneity in county demographics, underlying health incidence, and tree coverage. Chapter 4 further exploits the shock to forest and tree cover caused by EAB to examine behavioral changes in infested areas. Specifically, this chapter investigates how a shock to environmental quality caused by detection of EAB influences labor-leisure tradeoffs made by residents of infested areas using data from the nationally-representative American Time Use Survey. Econometric results from a variety of models indicate a negative relationship between EAB detection and daily outdoor leisure time in addition to a contemporaneous positive relationship between EAB detection and daily time spent on labor supply activities. These findings exist primarily along the extensive margin and persist after controlling for year and area fixed effects and daily weather conditions. Changes are persistent; lasting for 2 years and longer. The overall conclusion presented in chapter 5 is that forests and trees have economically meaningful impacts on health outcomes and individual behavioral patterns in urban areas as a result of shocks to environmental quality. It may be useful for policymakers and environmental managers to consider forest amenities, and disruption to forest quality in particular, when setting environmental and labor market policy. Accounting for the links between nature, health, and optimal choices, may lead to better informed policy, particularly in high-density populated areas where impacts of trees are perhaps the greatest.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Economics

First Committee Member (Chair)

McDermott, Shana

Second Committee Member

Valentin, Vanessa




environmental management, environmental economics, optimal control, health, invasive species, wildfire smoke, labor-leisure tradeoff

Document Type