Economic Impact of Protecting Public Lands- a close look into the campaign for nature

New Mexico has been facing major effects of climate change since the early 1970s. This is reflective of a major climate crisis we continue to face around the globe.

Globally, we have lost 60 percent of the planet’s wildlife. Wild vertebrate populations are quickly declining as their habitats continue to shrink. Biodiversity rates continue to decline, restricting food webs and the environment around them.

But The Campaign for Nature, or 30×30 Campaign, has set ambitious yet attainable goals for conservation efforts. New Mexico’s leaders committing to these goals make room for a promising future for maintaining sustainability efforts.

This is important for our economic growth as well. The economic impact of protecting public lands may not be immediately obvious, investment in conservation efforts and the public lands system provides all kinds of returns; not only is conservation proven to increase biodiversity rates and help manage the effects of climate change, it also provides a variety of economic benefits.

Here is a closer look at the impact of the outdoor recreation economy and benefits of investing in the conservation of public lands.

Outdoor recreation as a major player in the U.S. Economy

Every year, hundreds of millions of people from all over the world visit the American National Parks. In western states like New Mexico, up to 85 percent of the population regularly utilize public lands.

During 2020, throughout the midst of COVID-19, visiting the National Parks System became one of the only options for consistent outdoor activity. Despite travel restrictions and stay at home orders, 237 million people safely visited the more than 400 national parks across the country.

Visitors come to public lands for a variety of reasons- hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, skiing or any other fun sight seeing or family activities. And because of these activities, Americans spend $646 Million a year on related items such as equipment, travel, lodging, experiences and more.

Factoring in the ripple effect and indirect costs, the total economic impact of the outdoor recreation industry is $1.6 trillion. That’s more than that of motor vehicles, pharmaceuticals and household utilities.

Clearly, outdoor recreation is a major player in the U.S. economy. But the tourist attraction to preserved areas cannot be understated- protected areas like the National Parks are an essential backbone to this industry.

Return on Investment for conservation efforts

The economic impact of outdoor recreation and protecting public lands may not be immediately obvious. Sometimes it can feel like the seemingly abundant costs are not worth investment, as if the costs outweigh the benefits.

But reports continue to find the exact opposite. A report funded by the Campaign for Nature considers various scenarios of protecting at least 30% of the world’s land and ocean to find that the benefits outweigh the costs by a ratio of at least 5-to-1.

Nature conservation efforts drive economic growth, particularly within the outdoor recreation economy, and is “a net contributor to a resilient global economy.” A study through The Trust for Public Land shows that conservation efforts return from $4 to $10 for every dollar invested.

Apart from supporting the outdoor recreation economy, conservation funding also helps create millions of jobs across the United States. As of 2018, the National Parks Service had a backlog of $11.9 billion in maintenance projects across the country. From repairing roads to maintaining trails, increased funding could create thousands of jobs near local National Parks.

Why the Campaign for Nature?

Globally, only 15 percent of land and 7 percent of the ocean is protected.

Environmental studies continue to show that not only do our goals need to be lofty, they are time sensitive. While some of the studies urge for even more aggressive goals, the 30×30 campaign manages to create obtainable short term goals for environmental policy.

The Campaign for Nature, or 30×30 campaign, is a science-based initiative to conserve 30 percent of global lands and waters by 2030, protecting biodiversity and alleviating the impacts of climate change. It was born out of a partnership between the Wyss Campaign for Nature, National Geographic Society, and a growing coalition of more than 100 conservation organizations around the world.

Here are the specific demands of the 30×30 Campaign:

  • commit to protecting at least 30 percent of the planet by 2030;
  • help mobilize financial resources to ensure protected areas are properly managed; and,
  • approach biodiversity conservation in a way that fully integrates and respects indigenous leadership and indigenous rights

The repercussions of The Campaign for Nature are not only environmental, but economic. Investing in protecting public lands will help protect the collapse of native biodiversity, create thousands of jobs near local National Parks, and continue to support the booming outdoor recreation economy.