Land Conservation is Good Business

Apr 04, 2012
Land Trust Board member Gillian Ockner recently wrote and article for Cascade Business News. The topic: the economic value of land conservation.

By Gillian Ockner

Nationwide, we are coming to understand the economic value of land conservation. Access to natural areas is a key element in quality of life as people seek out balance between earning income and staying healthy, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. A survey by the National Association of Homebuilders concluded new homebuyers value trails and natural areas above any other amenity.   Quality of life is also a priority for businesses.  In Richard Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class, businesses, with the freedom to choose a site, often select one with a high quality of life.   

In order to better tell the story of land conservation and economic benefit, we must look to relevant data to quantify the value we put on nature and apply to our decision-making.

We can quantify increases in property values.  For example, property sales in Michigan from the late 1970’s through 2000 showed lots bordering permanently conserved forests sold for 19% to 35% more than lots further from the preserves, whereas properties adjacent to unpreserved forests showed little or no increased value. 

We can quantify avoided public infrastructure expenditures.  Conserving land along the sides of streams and other drinking water sources prevents polluted runoff draining directly into the water source. The Trust for Public Land and the American Water Works Association conducted a study of 27 water suppliers and discovered the more forest cover in a watershed, the fewer dollars suppliers must spend on treatment costs. For every 10% increase in the source area’s forest cover, treatment and chemical costs decreased approximately 20%.

We can estimate reduced health care costs. With clean air and access to open space, people are more likely to get out and recreate. This is important in light of the recent increase in obesity among children and adults that results in many diseases and conditions the treatment of which were estimated nationally to cost $117 billion in 2000.  A group of studies reviewed in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that “creation of or enhanced access to places for physical activity combined with informational outreach” produced a 48% increase in the frequency of physical activity. 

We can estimate economic activity generated. The National Association of State Park Directors reports that visitors to state parks across America in 2009 contributed $20 billion to local and state economies, an significant return on investment given that overall budget expenditure nationwide is less than $2.3 billion.   According to the National Recreation and Park Association, studies have shown that for every $1 million invested in parks and recreation infrastructure, at least 20 jobs are created.

Among the top five employers in Central Oregon in 2010 and 2011 were Sunriver Resort, Mt. Bachelor, St. Charles Health System and Bright Wood Corporation, a wood products company.  All depended on protection of open space and forests, and more importantly, a certain quality of life is expected by their employees and customers.

How do we ensure the growth of key sectors of our economy and protect environmental and social benefits of land conservation here in Central Oregon? We must continue to invest in local conservation organizations.  We must continue to invest in businesses that support our growing outdoor-based communities.  We must continue to thoughtfully expand our economy in areas that directly relate to the very reason many of us call Central Oregon home – because of our collective love affair with the land. 

Read the full article.
Gillian Ockner is an environmental economist, board member of the Deschutes Land Trust, and CEO of Gillian Ockner Consulting.