The Carrizo Plain National Monument: A Stunning Natural Area Sustaining Vibrant Communities

Thursday, January 1, 2009

This report summary presents the results of a study of the economy of the area around the Carrizo Plain National Monument in California, which consists of Kern, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.

Created by Presidential Proclamation in 2001, the 250,000-acre Carrizo Plain National Monument has only limited evidence of human alteration and is the biological cornerstone for the San Joaquin Valley. Located in eastern San Luis Obispo County and near growing population centers, the Carrizo Plain is a protected refuge for the many endemic and endangered plant and animal species that inhabit the area. The report shows how the local economies are poised to benefit from the presence and protective management of this national treasure.

Research by the Sonoran Institute has found that the strongest economic growth in the rural West is highly correlated with the presence of protected public lands, transportation and communication infrastructure, along with access to larger markets in metropolitan centers, and recreation and scenic amenities. Our report builds from this correlation and applies a set of Regional Asset Indicators developed by the Center for the Study of Rural America at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City along with the factors examined by the Sonoran Institute to the Carrizo Plain Economic Region. These indicators measure characteristics that have been found to correlate with the potential for economic growth in rural counties. They include the presence of human amenities (such as scenery, healthcare and restaurants), skilled workers, innovators and entrepreneurs, as well as the capital and infrastructure to support them.

The report also evaluates the income and employment trends of the regional economies, which show a steady increase in the professional/service sector. This sector is also shown to be the most stable and diverse part of the local economies, even where industries such as energy development or agriculture, play an important role. The strength of the professional/service sector is a key consideration in concluding that the local economies will be able to achieve economic growth – growth that will benefit from the protection of the natural amenities of the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Finally, the report discusses general data showing the benefits to local economies from recreation and tourism, the benefits associated with protected public lands, and trends in visitation and tourism development for the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The report concludes that the presence and protection of this diverse and unique landscape, taken in conjunction with the specific demographics and economic trends, will contribute significantly to the long term social and economic success of this region.

Authors: Michelle Haefele, Nada Culver, Alice Bond