Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Economic Prosperity IS an Ecosystem Service

When speaking about ecosystem services, we often emphasize how preserving natural spaces means less disease for us and habitat protection for flora and fauna. It's hard to put a price tag on such benefits. However, ecosystem services also include more economically measurable advantages such as economic growth, rising wages, ecotourist dollars and an expanding tourism sector, and the attraction of new residents and businesses.

Take time to read a study by Headwaters EconomicsDoña Ana County’s Public Lands and Economic Prosperity. According to their website, "Headwaters Economics is an independent, nonprofit research group that works to improve community development and land management decisions in the West."

The summary of the Doña Ana County study says it all:

"Doña Ana County’s public lands give it a competitive advantage compared to many other western communities. These lands today make important contributions to the region’s immigration, economic growth, and rising salaries and wages.

"Doña Ana County’s pristine and culturally rich public lands also are an important economic foundation for future prosperity. They support a growing travel and tourism sector, and will help attract new residents and businesses across a range of industries.

"Protecting these resources is a smart decision that capitalizes on the competitive benefits of distinctive public lands in today’s modern economy."

You could substitute "El Paso County" every time that it reads "Doña Ana County". The difference is that Las Cruces recognizes the connection between land preservation and prosperity. El Paso still doesn't get it. In El Paso the cry for preservation comes from the environmental/conservation community and not from the Chamber of Commerce and many developers. They need to recognize the hard cash value of land preservation.

People and businesses site "quality of life" as a reason for moving to a particular place. Recreational opportunities and scenic vistas are parts of this quality of life. Ecotourists look for a variety of experiences: hiking, mountain biking, birding, river walks, etc. 

"Protected public lands are a competitive economic advantage in southern New Mexico and Doña Ana County. These lands safeguard important natural assets and cultural landmarks, stimulate tourism and recreation jobs, and attract new people and businesses." 

"People are moving to the region because of its high quality of life. Services industries that employ a wide range of people—from doctors and engineers to teachers and accountants—are driving economic growth and make up the large majority of jobs today. These industries are raising wages and, along with rapid increases in non-labor income from investment and retirement sources, are helping to elevate per capita income.

"Looking ahead, protecting the world-class public lands that surround Las Cruces should be an important part of any economic development strategy for the region." (Headwaters Doña Ana study, emphases mine)

Again, just substitute El Paso County for Doña County.

Apparently the El Paso County Commissioners get "it". County Commissioners are developing an economic plan which emphasizes heritage tourism and a county-line to county-line trail system which will give more recreation opportunities for residents to walk, bike and enjoy the great outdoor assets El Paso has to offer.  One of those assets is the Rio Grande River.

With all of its squabbling, backbiting and commitments to sprawlers, City Council doesn't and can't get the connection between preservation of its natural assets and economic prosperity.

What the Headwaters Study shows us is that preserving natural assets has measurable, positive economic results. Now that's an ecosystem service.


  1. And Sunset Magazine has selected Las Cruces as one of the best towns in the southwest, citing its bike-path program among other things.

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