Natural Lands Grow Greenbacks

October 12, 2012
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By Michele S. Byers

We know how to exploit land and natural resources; it’s what we humans do. But leaving land and resources alone can make money, too, and a recent study proves it.

The study found that preserved public lands generate jobs and revenue, and in fact can provide greater economic value to nearby communities when kept in a natural state than when torn up and ravaged for raw materials and energy.

The study’s main conclusion is that public lands make great neighbors – not just because of the beautiful scenery, but because of their capacity to generate economic growth.

Conserving Lands and Prosperity: Seeking a Proper Balance between Conservation and Development in the Rocky Mountain West was prepared for Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development by consultant Southwick Associates. The study looked at 204 non-metropolitan counties in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Idaho, and analyzed the economic benefits of public lands adjacent to communities.

Public lands, according to the study, are magnets for sportsmen, eco-tourists, retirees and business owners seeking places with a high quality of life. As a result, counties with substantial public lands fared better economically than those dependent on extraction-based economies, reporting higher levels of job and population growth.

The study compared the top 50 counties with the highest percentage of conservation and recreation lands against the 50 counties with higher percentages of land used for resource extraction.

Here’s what it found about the top 50 conservation counties:


• From 1969 to 2009, they enjoyed higher per capita income growth rates;

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• Their 2009 average per capita income was substantially higher, $38,000 versus $30,000;


• They recorded a higher job growth rate, 269 percent versus 76 percent, from 1969 to 2000;


• Their 2004 median home value was nearly twice as high, $168,004 versus $87,885.


These impressive statistics don’t even factor in the ecological benefits of public conservation lands – for instance, flood control, sequestering carbon and filtering our drinking water supply. These eco-benefits provide enormous economic value. Consider this: It’s far cheaper to prevent a flood through land conservation than to engineer a solution after development has taken place!

Add the economic and ecological benefits of conservation lands together and we have an unbeatable combination. It’s in our own best interest to preserve natural lands – in this state we’re in and beyond. Protected watersheds, viable wildlife and fish populations, clean air and places to get away from crowds, roads and noise are priceless treasures we all can appreciate!

To read the “Conserving Lands and Prosperity” report online, go to

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at


Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

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