Open Space Pays In Many Ways

October 28, 2011
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By Michele S. Byers

A newly-released study backs what open space advocates have long known:  preserving land bolsters both the economy and the environment.

Southwick Associates, a consulting firm specializing in wildlife economics and statistics, recently conducted the study for the non-profit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. They examined the economics associated with outdoor recreation, natural resources conservation and historic preservation.

The report’s findings are clear: outdoor recreation, natural lands conservation and historic preservation are powerful contributors to the U.S. economy. Together, they account for 8.4 million jobs, $100 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue, and $1.06 trillion in total economic activity.  And those numbers are minimums, due to a shortage of hard data in some areas.

It may be surprising to learn how much economic activity is generated by outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, bicycling, paddling and nature observation.  The study estimates the total economic contribution from outdoor sports in the United States is nearly $821 billion a year, which generates almost 6.5 million jobs and $99 billion in tax revenue.

Even better, sales related to outdoor recreation, gear and travel ($325 billon) are greater than the annual return from pharmaceutical manufacturing ($162 billion) and even power generation and supply ($283 billion)!

U.S. Department of the Interior properties alone – like national parks and wildlife management areas – generated $47 billion in economic activity supporting 388,000 jobs in 2011.  Local economies in “gateway” communities surrounding national parks also reap economic benefits, to the tune of $12.56 billion in 2009.  And these numbers don’t even touch on the multitude of state, county and local parks and natural areas.

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The study also examines environmental services that natural lands provide, like flood control, filtering pollution out of air and water, and generating oxygen.  In addition to generating economic activity, natural habitats in the 48 contiguous United States saves taxpayers money by providing eco-services valued at about $1.6 trillion.

In some cases, the study was able to quantify the costs incurred for lost environmental services.  The 9.9 million acres of wetlands destroyed since the 1950s, for example, equate to more than $81 billion in lost environmental services.

Historic preservation is also an economic boon. In addition to jobs related to restoring historic sites and structures, historic preservation helps revitalize once-blighted neighborhoods. Once historic sites are restored, they become economic engines. The study notes that heritage tourism “has been found to be a lucrative market, attracting well-educated and well-heeled visitors that spend more than other tourists.”

If it’s true that money talks, these findings are shouting!  Investment in a healthy environment is an investment in a healthy economy.

To read the report on the economic benefits of conservation, go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation website at and click on the link on the homepage.

And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at or contact me at .


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