As new students begin to study the discipline of natural resource economics, there is often a great deal of confusion about what the topic is really about. This is especially the case when students are coming from backgrounds with only limited exposure to economics (e.g. EVS, where you've only had one or two econ classes before this one).
Generally speaking, economists try to solve problems using a combination of theory, empirical analysis (data, statistics, math), and intuition. For example, macro economists try to address issues such as how to keep an economy growing without significant inflation. Natural resource economists try to solve problems associated with scarce natural resources.
Some examples from my work include: How to maximize fishery value while balancing the competing needs of commercial and recreational fishers and maintaining a biologically sustainable stock? How can Caribbean tourism grow without harming marine turtle populations? What regulations would maximize the net gains to society from white tailed deer populations? In the face of depleted stocks, will a nation's supply of seafood increase or decrease with financial incentives to curtail fishing effort? How can scuba diving sites be managed to maximize economic gains and minimize damage to corals? How important is beach width to tourists? Is beach re-nourishment worth the expense?
Obviously, these are complex issues that require interdisciplinary effort. One of the things that I really love about what I do is that I work side-by-side with biologists, policy makers and resource users to address these problems.
Below are links to two excellent essays that provide a nice perspective on the economic view of the environment.
The second essay covers non-market valuation, which we will cover in detail later in the term. It makes a good read now however, as it sets the stage for much of what we're covering at the beginning of the class (e.g. the anthropocentric view of value).
How do Economists Really Think About the Environment (Fullerton and Stavins, RFF, 1998)
Economic Values without Prices (Loomis, Choices, 2005)