It is true that money does not grow on trees, but it could come from people traveling to see them. A report titled “West Is Best: How Public Lands in the West Create a Competitive Economic Advantage,” written by Headwaters Economics this month, details how the West’s 355 million acres of parks and wilderness areas are drivers for high-wage jobs and local economies. Incredibly, in rural counties where land was under some sort of federal protection, employment increased by 345% over the past four decades. By contrast, in areas that had no protection, jobs increased by only 83%. It seems that preservation is a lucrative business.

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In addition to creating jobs, nature parks and monuments help to raise employee pay. In 2010, per capita income with areas that had 100,000 acres of protected public land was on average $4,360 higher than in similar counties without oversight. Tech jobs also began to spring up near places that had natural attractions, such as skiing, kayaking and hiking, giving these regions and edge over their neighbors. Transitions from resource-based to service and knowledge-based economies have drawn these industries in part because of natural beauty, and have helped these protected lands out-compete the rest of the nation over the last 40 years.

“In the fierce global competition for business and talent today, the West has a clear competitive advantage in its public lands. The West has more federal public lands, and protected public lands such as national parks and monuments, than any other region of the country. These lands offer access to hiking, fishing, hunting, skiing, boating, and other forms of recreation, and provide a scenic backdrop to the region’s communities,” asserts the report.

Aside from intrinsic and sentimental value, the numbers reaffirm what many park advocates and environmentalists have known all along: protecting our natural treasures can benefit our lives both by ensuring healthy ecosystems as well as robust economies.

+ Headwaters Economics

Via The LA Times

Images via Wikimedia commons users Forrest Gump and Antoinetav