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Study: Investment in Nature Provides Big Return

Massachusetts has about 7,700 farms covering 520,000 acres, with an annual output of $510 million in revenue. (The Trust for Public Land)By ecoRI News staff

Every dollar Massachusetts spends on conservation returns $4 and supports jobs for hundreds of thousands of people, according to a recently released study by The Trust for Public Land.

“These results showed conservation is an excellent investment and they are consistent with a dozen similar studies we have conducted across the nation in the past four years," said Jessica Sargent, senior economist with The Trust for Public Land and author of the report. "Over and over again, from Maine to Arizona, we see that spending money on conservation protects jobs and shows a good return on investment.”

Between 1998 and 2011, Massachusetts protected 131,000 acres of parks, beaches, wetlands, natural areas, working farms and forests, Sargent said, and the state’s grant programs leveraged an additional $118 million in money from other sources. Protected lands support jobs in a variety of industries, including tourism and outdoor recreation, agriculture, forestry and commercial fishing, she said.

“This report helps to quantify the importance of land conservation,” said Rep. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, House chair to the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. “I am fortunate to represent people who understand the value of our beautiful landscapes and how necessary conservation is for future generations to continue to reap the benefits of sound environmental policy.”

Outdoor recreation provides an enormous boost to the state’s economy, generating $10 billion annually in consumer spending and $739 million in tax revenue, while supporting about 90,000 jobs, according to the report.

The report found that Massachusetts has about 7,700 farms covering 520,000 acres, with an annual output of $510 million in revenue. Massachusetts also produces about 100 million board feet of timber annually, which generates $285 million in wood product revenues each year at the state’s 166 forest-product manufacturing facilities, including sawmills and paper mills.

“Investments in working forests are a proven win-win proposition with a big future upside,” said Robert Perschel, executive director of the New England Forestry Foundation. “Forest landowners keep their lands in a natural condition, while jobs and careers are created and secured. Best of all, protected forest lands remain productive, yielding local, renewable, climate-friendly goods and services that are the cornerstones of a sustainable economy for Massachusetts.”

Land set aside to protect drinking water supplies surrounding the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs have saved Massachusetts Water Resource Authority customers an estimated $200 million in filtration plant construction and annual operating costs, according to the report.

“We have always known of the strong connection between the health of our economy and environment. Quantifying this return on investment provides tangible evidence of the value of public investment in protecting land and the benefits to both people and nature that it provides,” said Wayne Klockner, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts.

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