Conservation and recreation are driving local economies in rural Western states, especially in the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado. Rural counties, such as Eagle County, that are managed more for conservation and recreation than for resource development have enjoyed greater economic success, from higher home prices to more jobs. In a report, “Conserving Lands and Prosperity” by research firm Southwick Associates on behalf of Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, economists found that counties which have a higher percentage of land in conservation and open space have had greater economic growth since 1969.
The study explored the relationship between land use and economic growth from 1969 to 2009 and included research from 204 non-metropolitan counties in seven Western states, including many rural counties in the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado. The report found fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing and other passive outdoor recreational opportunities contributed to increased jobs and higher economic vitality in those rural Western counties that made conservation and open space protection a priority. The top five counties managed for conservation and recreation had 5.3 times faster job growth than the top five counties managed intensely for commodity production. Those conservation counties also had higher median housing prices and faster population growth than their counterparts.
A separate study, conducted by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, also supports these findings. Like the Southwick study, this report shows that lands conserved for outdoor sporting activities are a significant driver of rural local economies in Colorado. Overall, hunting, fishing and watchable wildlife tourism has a $3 billion impact and creates 20,000 jobs statewide. In Eagle County, we ranked eighth of all 64 Colorado counties for total economic impacts from wildlife, with over $67 million in expenditures from both residents and nonresidents. And, wildlife associated activities provided over 900 local jobs in our community.
Also according to the Colorado DOW, $28.7 million dollars is added to the Eagle County economy annually due to hunting and fishing activities. Obviously, if we do not protect and conserve open spaces for our local wildlife, then we will lose this $28 million dollars in revenue. If we do not save local lands for our elk and deer and trout, then the hunters and fishermen will go somewhere else, taking their dollars with them.
A third study, conducted by independent research group Headwaters Economics, also supports these positive economic findings, showing that federally protected open space is also a primary driver of our statewide economy. This study showed that Colorado’s federal lands — our national parks, wilderness areas, monuments and national forests — are leading our economic growth. The study reports that non-metro counties with more than 30 percent of their land federally protected enjoyed a 345 percent increase in jobs since 1970, compared to only 83 percent job growth in non-metro areas without any federal lands.
All three of these studies dispel the notion that land conservation and permanent wildlife habitat protection hinders economic growth. It does not. This extensive research points to the fact that Colorado’s vast collection of conserved open spaces and federal lands have helped and are continuing to help our state’s economy grow and thrive. The quality of life in our state, and here in Eagle County, is based in outdoor recreational opportunities. Our open spaces, our conserved lands, our national forests, our wilderness areas and our trail systems are very appealing in attracting new companies, creating new jobs and propelling our local economies for continued growth in the future.
Eagle County depends upon protecting our natural environment which is such a strong part of our unique quality of life. Conserved lands play a vital role in our local economy by providing recreational opportunities, wildlife habitats and amenities that attract and keep good businesses and good employees in Colorado, thus keeping our economy strong. Your local land trust is proud to be at the forefront of efforts to grow our local economy and help Eagle County to thrive by increasing conservation and recreational opportunities. Supporting local land conservation and open space protection creates jobs and provides significant benefits to our local economy.
Jason Denhart is the director of communications and development for the Eagle Valley Land Trust. For more information about the land trust and the economic benefits of permanent land conservation in our community, visit www.evlt.org, call 970-748-7654 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.