Is your state richer because of its protected lands? New study tells answer.

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon, Utah

Flikr creative commons: toddwendy

Western states have an advantage over the rest of the country because of their wealth of protected public lands, according to a new recent economic study released by Headwaters Economics.The report, “West is Best: How Public Lands in the West Create a Competitive Economic Advantage", shows how the West's national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and other public lands offer growing high-tech and service industries a competitive advantage. The findings support Wilderness Society research that shows that healthy economies depend upon protecting wildlands.

These protected wildlands are a major reason why the western economy has outperformed the rest of the U.S. economy in key measures of growth --- employment, population, and personal income -- during the last four decades, according to Headwaters Economics, the non-partisan research group that published the report. 

Graphic courtesy of Headwaters Economics. See report for additional interactive maps and charts.

According to the report, from 1970 to 2012:

  • The West’s employment grew by 152% compared to 78% for the rest of the country.

  • Those western rural counties with over 30% of their land federally protected had jobs increase by 345%, compared to counties with no federally protected land in which jobs increased by only 83%.

  • Natural landscapes and the outdoor recreation that they offer are highly desirable and therefore useful recruitment assets for companies, entrepreneurs and talented employees.

  • In 2010, western rural counties with 100,000 acres of protected public lands had per capita incomes that were on average $4,360 higher than those in counties with no protected public lands.

“This study shows that entrepreneurs and America’s most talented workers are choosing to live in places where they can enjoy outdoor recreation and a quality of life,” said Ray Rasker, PhD, Executive Director of Headwaters Economics. “By highlighting access to national parks, forests, and other public lands, western communities and companies have created new jobs faster than the rest of the U.S.”

The Wilderness Society works and advocates for public land designation and smart public land policy to ensure lands across the country offer outdoor recreation and quality of life. 

See also: 

Natural dividends: Wildland protection and the changing economy

Conservation funding