Land Conservation Helps Local Economies Grow

— Written By

Harvard University | 3/26/2019 | Morning AgClips via EurekaAlert!

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Land conservation modestly increases employment rates, a traditional indicator of economic growth, according to an analysis of New England cities and towns, led by scientists at Amherst College, Harvard Forest, the Highstead Foundation, and Boston University.

The study, published in Conservation Biology, is the first of its kind, estimating the local net impacts of both private and public land conservation over 25 years (1990-2015) across 1500 cities and towns that are home to 99.97% of New England’s population.

Land conservation through educational programs

The study shows that when land protection increased, employment increased over the next five-year period, even when controlling rigorously for other associated factors. “Employment gains were modest but significant across the region, and the effect was amplified in more rural areas,” says Kate Sims, Chair of the Economics Department at Amherst College and a co-lead author of the study. To illustrate the study’s results, she explained that if a town with 50,000 people employed increased its land protection by 50%, 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.

Prior studies have mainly focused on the impacts of public land conservation such as national parks, and in the Western U.S. The current study builds on analyses by the Harvard Forest and Highstead to track and learn from the unique framework of land protection efforts in New England, which include large amounts of privately-owned land.

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