Did you know that wilderness boosts residential property values? This is one of the interesting facts from our recent statement on the economic benefits of wilderness for the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.
The Wilderness Society's hearing testimony explains the important role that public lands play for local economies. Federally designated wilderness areas provide incredibly valuable services—like increasing local income and employment, boosting recreation and tourism, and naturally filtering our air and drinking water.
Wilderness has tangible economic benefits like correlations with increased income, employment, and population, according to a USDA study. Economic studies show that wilderness can boost residential property values by almost 19 percent. Wilderness is also often a motivation for people to move to and stay in places, which leads to economic development. As the hearing testimony says, “scenic vistas make communities attractive to businesses and employees seeking the highest quality of life.”
A survey of 227 U.S. counties found that wilderness was an important reason for why 60% of migrant residents moved to their county and why 45% of long-term residents stayed. In an 11-county survey, 81% of people agreed that wilderness is important to their counties, and a majority of people (53%) cited wilderness as an important reason they live there.
A Wilderness Society resource economist developed a framework to help resource managers assess wild lands’ economic value, which calls this phenomenon of residents and businesses attracted to a high quality of life “community benefits,” and labels increased property values “off-site benefits.”
Wilderness also provides a place and opportunity for recreation and tourism, called “direct use benefits” in this framework, which boost rural economies. Each 10,000 acres of protected wilderness provides 18 new jobs. Every year, recreation supports 6.5 million jobs and contributes $730 billion to the American economy, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. In just one county in California, wilderness generated $31.9 million in personal income, $50.2 million in sales revenue, and 882 jobs. Outdoor recreation means money spent on gear, guides, food, hotels, and more.
Protecting the wilderness (so that people will even want to come visit it) can also help create jobs, known as restoration or adaptation jobs. Through activities like taking down old unused logging roads, these jobs help the land adapt to climate change. There are so many roads in our forests and grasslands, they could loop around the earth 17 times. Many of these unmaintained and unused roads, left over from the era of big timber, pollute our drinking water and pose problems for wildlife. But hundreds of thousands of miles of these can and should be restored back to their natural state—a task that can also help put America back to work.
These jobs are important not only for protecting our magnificent public lands, but also for providing economic benefits for rural communities. According to a study by the University of the Massachusetts, these green jobs can double their return to local economies—stimulating over $2 billion in economic activity for every $1 million invested. $1 million could also decommission 100 miles of roads—which helps sustain the other incredible and underappreciated value of wilderness.
Wilderness provides natural benefits, or “ecosystem services,” worth billions of dollars. These include water and air filtration, pest control, and climate change mitigation. 20% of Americans get their clean water from national forests, a value worth over $4 billion annually. If you’d like to see how to calculate these values, and what other ecosystem services are worth, check out this Wilderness Society fact sheet on green jobs.
Few people understand or appreciate this aspect of designated wilderness areas—it is at times easy to forget, for example, that wild lands can help prevent flooding, or clean our air.
Presenting this information at a House hearing was one way to inform and remind members of Congress. We hope that they will come to recognize wilderness’s many values, and act by increasing the pace and scale of wilderness designations on federal lands.
You can act by signing up for WildAlert and reminding your members of Congress about wildland issues that matter to you most.