A new report from the Trust for Public Land reported that for every $1 invested in land conservation in Vermont, $9 is returned in natural goods and services.
“This is the third highest return on investment we’ve seen among the dozen studies we’ve conducted in states across the country,” said Shelby Semmes, the TPL’s Vermont and New Hampshire state program director.
The 900 percent return on investment in land conservation comes back to local municipalities in various forms of natural goods and services, the report said.
The TPL report explained that conserving lands bolsters local economies directly in many forms, including tourism, a $2.61 billion economy in the state. Tourists and residents spend an additional $5.5 billion on outdoor recreation in Vermont’s natural landscape.
Conservation in the form of working lands also helps to boost the state’s economic return on investment, the report said. Maple syrup, dairies and produce farms contribute $796 million to Vermont’s economy: protecting these working lands is important for the the future of farming in the state.
Investing in land conservation also benefits Vermonters in the form of public health, environmental vitality and economic development, the TPL report said.
While the economic analysis of the report was conducted by TPL advisors, the entire project was supported by the Vermont Forest Partnership, a coalition of five organizations including the TPL, Audubon Vermont, The Nature Conservancy, Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Natural Resources Council.
The coalition, whose goal is to protect the state’s forests from fragmentation and to support conservation, is excited about the results of the study.
“We’ve always anticipated that investing in land conservation is a good investment that pays dividends to Vermonters, but we were pleasantly surprised at how big that return was,” said Brian Shupe, executive director of the VNRC. “It really is an indicator of how extremely tightly intertwined our economy and our environment is, and how we ignore our environment at our economic peril.”
For Vermont towns, the report is good news.
“Many municipalities make bold decisions to invest precious resources to match state funding investments that this report evaluates,” Semmes said. “This $1 to $9 return on investment should be proof that they are acting prudently and with bold vision when doing so, benefitting current and future residents and businesses.”
Colchester economic development director Kathi O’Reilly noted the town’s continued investment in recreation and conservation for the benefit of residents and tourists.
“The Heritage Project, which was a resident-driven initiative, had several priorities including ‘Preserve and strengthen the viability of Colchester’s working landscape and agricultural economy in support of local economic development, economic self-reliance, and Colchester’s agricultural heritage,’” she wrote in an email to the Sun.
Essex is also investing in land conservation through the Essex Conservation Reserve Fund. Darren Schibler, community development director for Essex, said the fund’s goal is to leverage town money and get funding from land trusts to help residents protect land in the form of conservation easements.
“It’s helping offset the legal and stewardship fees often associated with conserving a piece of land,” Schibler said. “So for someone who wants to donate a conservation easement, it’s basically making it free for them.”
With this report, Shupe said, the VNRC is going to continue to raise public awareness and advocate for policy to protect the state’s forests from fragmentation and development.
“For the first time in over 100 years, we’re starting to lose our forest again, we’re going backwards,” he said. “We’re seeing the fragmentation of our forests, it’s subdivision in scattered unplanned residential development, and that’s already having an economic impact.”