Date of Award

August 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Forestry and Environmental Conservation

Committee Member

Robert Baldwin

Committee Member

Steven Seagle

Committee Member

Michael Vassalos


Natural resources provided by the environment through ecosystem services (ES) are vital in humanity’s survival, economic development, and human well-being. While ES improves human well-being, the continuous provision of ES is directly dependent on the ecosystem’s health and integrity. Changing land uses favoring urbanization, and industrial complexes rather than forests and agricultural land affects the ecosystem’s health; hence, affecting the continuous provision of ecosystem services. To ensure sustainable development, conservation programs should be implemented considering both the stakeholders’ well-being and maintaining the ecosystem’s health and integrity.

This study designs a sustainable financing mechanism known as Payments-for-Ecosystem Services (PES), which intends to source financial resources to fuel conservation programs and support sustainable practices ensuring the continuous flow of good quality ecosystem services to stakeholders in the Santee River Basin Network (SRBN) of South Carolina (SC). The study developed a systematic approach for designing a PES in SRBN by: 1) assessing the stakeholders understanding about conservation concepts and programs; 2) analyzing their preference to identify the priority ecosystem and ES to be subject to conservation programs; 3) quantifying the physical amount of priority ES in SRBN; 4) estimating the value of community benefits of the priority ES based on stakeholders’ willingness-to-pay; and 5) determining the ecosystem conditions of the land to identify which land cover affects the ES provision positively and negatively.

Each phase of the systematic process represents a chapter of this dissertation. The succeeding outputs from each chapter were integrated into a stakeholder-driven process of developing a PES. A stakeholder-driven approach ensures a PES scheme that is favorable to the public and achievable for implementation. Picking up from the results, the primary focus for this PES design is on water quality regulation and wildlife habitat improvement. The process also revealed how land cover change affects the ES provision and how sustainable farming practices address these changes. Finally, integrating the quantification of various ES revealed specific potential subject areas for operationalizing the PES and critical locations for improving the strategic implementation of conservation programs.



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