In a nutshell, people value outdoor recreation.
That’s but one of many conclusions reached in a new study recently conducted by Florida-based Southwick Associates for the coalition known as Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development. The report released last week states what many outdoors enthusiasts have long suspected: that conserving wildlife and natural places in the Rocky Mountain West pays off.
The real hook though, is just how much it pays.
The West has long been defined by vast tracts of public lands that double as playgrounds for outdoorsmen and economic engines for extraction industries such as mining, logging, and oil and gas drilling. Few will deny the value of the natural resources and the need for energy and raw materials provided by Western communities. But, as it turns out, outdoor recreation opportunities such as hunting, angling and wildlife watching are prized even more for the rippling economic stimulation they afford as magnets for tourists, retirees, businesses and professionals seeking quality of life, the report states.
The bottom line points to the sort of balance one might expect from a coalition calling itself Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development. The U.S. needs raw materials and the jobs supported by their extraction, it says, but don’t overlook the contribution of jobs and steady economic growth that depend on fish, wildlife and natural scenic qualities in the same places. The economic comparison between the two sides offers some surprises. The highlights:
• Counties with a higher percentage of public lands managed for conservation and recreation report higher levels of job and population growth than those with higher percentages of lands managed for commodity production.
• From 1969 to 2009, the top 50 counties with the highest percentage of land managed for conservation had higher per capita income growth rates (nearly 1,100 percent) than those 50 counties with higher percentages of land managed for resource development (approximately 970 percent).
• In 2009, the average per capita income in the top 50 counties where public lands were managed for conservation and recreation was about $38,000. It was approximately $30,000 in the top 50 counties where public lands were intensively managed for natural resource extraction.
• From 1970 to 2000, the populations of the top 50 counties with lands managed for conservation and recreation grew 122 percent. In contrast, the populations of the top 50 counties with lands managed for natural resource development grew 40 percent.
• The top 50 counties with lands managed for conservation and recreation recorded a 269 percent growth in jobs from 1969 to 2000. The top 50 counties with lands managed for natural resource development saw employment increase 76 percent in the same time period.
• In 2004, the median housing value was $168,004 in the top 50 counties with the highest percentage of land managed for conservation and recreation. The median housing value was $87,885 for the top 50 counties with the highest percentage of land managed for natural resource development.
Studies show that environmental amenities promote growth, indicating that scenic beauty and recreational opportunities attract new residents and business owners to the West. Natural amenities also support employment by attracting people with a variety of skills in such fields as science, technology, health care, the arts and entertainment.
Although the report’s backers could be accused of some selective statistical emphasis, the underlying economic theme is that natural amenities and outdoor recreation amount to steady growth, rather than the boom-and-bust cycles so common to extraction industries. Such stability is all the more important in the face of recent calls for rapid expansion of oil and gas extraction that ignore the impact on the growing economic sector of outdoor recreation.
People want to live in natural, scenic places, and they’re bringing skills, investment capital and other components of a thriving economy with them. Of course, they’ll also need the energy and materials required to build and maintain those rural communities.
In the end, it turns out that what people value most is balance.
Scott Willoughby: 303-954-1993 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more: Willoughby: Report shows that nature can be more valuable than natural resources – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/willoughby/ci_20736767/report-shows-that-nature-can-be-more-valuable#ixzz1wMyedtsi