Land conservation helps local economies grow, study suggests

Washington: Land conservation modestly increases employment rates and can help local economies grow, researchers have found.

As part of a recent study, researchers estimated the local net impact of both private and public land conservation over 25 years (1990-2015) across 1,500 cities and towns that are home to 99.97 percent of New England’s population.

The research shows that when land protection increased, employment increased over the next five-year period, even when controlling rigorously for other associated factors.

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“Employment gains were modest but significant across the region, and the effect was amplified in more rural areas,” said Kate Sims, co-lead author of the study published in the Journal of Conservation Biology.

To illustrate the study’s results, she explained that if a town with 50,000 people employed increased its land protection by 50 percent, it saw, on average, 750 additional people employed in the next five years.

Conservation–the permanent protection of land from developed uses–has long been viewed by skeptics as a loss of possible local tax revenue from new development or resource extraction, and thus painted as incompatible with economic growth.

Proponents of land protection point to the fact that conservation can reduce the cost of community services while providing both indirect economic benefits such as clean water and flood protection and direct economic gains such as increased real estate and amenity values and inputs to the forest and farm products industry.

The authors say gains in employment following increases in conservation may be driven by new jobs in tourism and recreation–a sector that provides 52 billion dollars a year in direct spending, according to estimates by the Outdoor Industry Association.

The authors also point to the preservation of jobs in areas with commercial timberlands that support timber harvests, non-timber forest products such as maple syrup, and public access and recreational activities.

The scientists saw small gains in median household income, overall population, and employment in recreation, tourism, and arts-based industries as a result of land conservation, though the effects were not statistically significant.

They saw no change in the number of new building permits when conservation increased, suggesting that protecting land does not reduce housing development, but redirects where it occurs.


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