The Bashang Plateau, which is an ecologically fragile agro-pastoral zone in Hebei Province in China, plays an important role in protecting the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region from wind and sand erosion. Over the last four decades, it has been the target of extensive afforestation campaigns to promote improved ecosystem services. Though the benefits and costs of afforestation and its effectiveness within forestry have been widely investigated, few studies have focused on local households' willingness to accept (WTA) compensation relating to afforestation policies. Moreover, despite their importance in ensuring effective afforestation policies, the factors influencing WTA values have seldom been examined. We administered a direct questionnaire survey of households on the Bashang Plateau and applied a contingent valuation analysis to estimate their WTA values for compensation associated with ecological protection policies. We obtained 249 valid questionnaires, evidencing a high response rate (92.22%). New indicators of factors influencing respondents' WTA has been conducted including social, economic and ecological aspects, especially the improvement of ecological factors which consists of respondents' perceptions regarding the importance of ES and their satisfaction levels, and other environmental awareness factors. Additionally, in the case where many studies performed only one single regression analysis, this study performed a two-stage regression analysis and compared the results with those obtained using the Tobit model. A reasonable compensation standard facilitates a positive relationship between economic development and protection of natural environments. The findings showed that a certain amount of compensation (approximately 477.91 CNY/mu/year) was likely to prompt households' participation in afforestation projects. Compared with compensation standards for other ecological projects, the reported standard for afforestation projects on the Bashang Plateau is low, indicating that there is room for improvement. High annual household incomes are a key factor influencing households' WTA regarding their participation in afforestation activities. The results also revealed households' environmental awareness. Among respondents who participated in afforestation, those who valued forests for protecting environments and improving ecosystem services opted for lower compensation amounts. Our findings contribute valuable inputs for formulating ecological compensation standards and can serve as a reference for analyses of WTA and factors that drive it in other similar economically backward and ecologically fragile regions.