Scenery holds economic value

Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

People often think my job as an economist means I never look up from the numbers on my computer screen. Not so — I'm all about scenery — it's the reason I became an economist in the first place. And with all the talk in the news about the Omnibus Public Land bill , I thought it would be good to talk about the economic side of wildlands.

It may at first seem that scenery has no economic value, but this is not the case. Anything which is scarce has value. As development increases, scenery (at least the pleasant kind) certainly becomes more scarce. If I or anyone is willing to give something up in order to obtain a thing it has value. It could be money, time, or the opportunity to develop wildlands.

Through our actions most of us have demonstrated that scenery is valuable.

Citizens of cities and counties often vote to preserve open space and to pay for it through taxes, so we give up some money (albeit only a few dollars a year) to “buy” open space. We give up the opportunity to develop our scenic National Parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Rocky Mountain. One could even consider the value of the scenery “earned” by making the effort to hike to a remote area. This might be the added time to arrive at the scenic destination, or the extra food needed to fuel the effort. But we give this up, in part, to obtain a view of the wild scenery.

Scenery also contributes to local, state, and even national economic well-being. Property values are higher in more scenic areas. People often travel to places with nice scenery for their vacations, and we always hear about the contribution of tourism to a region’s economy.

Hikers, hunters, anglers, and people doing many other recreation activities prefer areas which are more scenic. This will add revenue to local businesses that might be lost if the scenery were somehow diminished.

Further, if the experience is improved because of the scenery, its worth more to the person who gave up time to participate. People also prefer to live and work in more scenic areas. These quality of life benefits are often considered in the location decisions of companies, which will in turn provide jobs and tax revenue for an area.

Other values associated with scenery may not be easy to put a dollar value on, but are also important when considering the overall value of scenery. I enjoy just knowing that wild lands and scenery exist. There are many National Parks which I have never seen, but this does not mean that they have no value to me. There are also benefits associated with knowing that I have the option of someday seeing the scenery in Denali National Park, for example.

Folks often speak of a heritage for future generations. Wild lands are part of this heritage for many people, who receive value knowing that their children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy the same scenery that they have.

Click here to read our report on economic values associated with conserving public lands in the Rocky Mountain West.

photo: Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.