Residents of the Virginia Eastern Shore are passionate about the environment, particularly water quality, the preservation of our rural quality of life. These passions found a home earlier this year as The Trust for Public Land conducted an economic analysis of the return on Virginia’s investment in land conservation. Our own Eastern Shorekeeper, Jay Ford was part of a ground breaking new study that found that every public $1 invested in land conservation returned $4 in natural goods and services.
The study focused on a subset of conservation lands in Virginia which have been conserved through “fee simple purchase and purchase of conservation easements from willing sellers, using state dollars.” According to the report, the goal of the analysis was to “better understand the return on Virginia’s direct investment in land conservation, whether those dollars are from general obligation bonds that are made available periodically for state land acquisition, or through state grant programs, which usually receive a modest amount of funding annually through the General Fund.”
Importantly, land conservation funded by Virginia supports key industries, such as tourism and aquaculture that depend on the availability of high-quality protected land and water.
For the Shore, conservation lands are critical to local tourism industries. Current data suggest that nearly 50% percent of Virginia residents participate in outdoor recreation each year; tax revenue attributed to outdoor recreation spending equals $923 million annually. The report also notes that 138,000 jobs in the commonwealth are directly supported by this spending, accounting for $3.9 billion in wages and salaries.
National studies have shown that the American worker is changing, that priorities more and more include quality of life concerns. The study indicates that sand conservation contributes to Virginia’s economy by maintaining the scenic beauty of the state, improving quality of life for residents, and enabling the state to attract and retain new businesses and high-quality workers. Virginia businesses believe that it is important for Virginia to develop and maintain an attractive and sustainable natural environment. Employees want to live in a place that is healthy, offers outdoor entertainment, and is vibrant and livable. Employers want employees who are healthy and stimulated at work and at home.
While a good bit of our revenue is dedicated to providing the best quality public education for our children, land conservation helps by saving Virginia communities money through avoided costs on expensive infrastructure and other municipal services required by residential property owners, such as schools, police, and fire protection. Research conducted in six Virginia counties shows that on average, residential lands require $1.18 in services for every dollar paid in local taxes. At the same time, working and open lands only require $0.35 in services for every dollar contributed in property taxes.
The ROI report concludes that Virginia’s investments in land conservation are critical to creating and protecting the places and amenities that make the state a great place to live and work. Land and water conservation contributes to a high quality of life while simultaneously stimulating economic activity by attracting visitors who spend money in local communities—it also helps the state’s outdoor recreation economy, as well as the agriculture, forestry, and commercial fishing industries, industries which generate billions of dollars in output and support tens of thousands of jobs.