Who knew that wildlife refuges are actually “economic engines” in disguise? A recent study by North Carolina State University researchers for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that metro-area homes near wildlife refuges are worth more than those farther away from these havens. The report surveyed homes in urban areas near refuges in the Northeast, Southeast, and California-Nevada region. The report didn’t include the Southwest because reserves there tend to be too far from dense, urban cores.
While many developers have known for some time that being near to open space somewhat improves property values — with natural parks and woodlands providing the most value — perhaps it’s less known that wildlife refuges have a greater impact. According to The New York Times’ Green blog, “for homes that are less than a half-mile from a wildlife refuge and within eight miles of an urban center, property values were 7 to 9 percent higher on average in the Southeast and 4 to 5 percent higher in the Northeast. In the California-Nevada area, such homes were worth 3 to 6 percent more.” This is far higher than the average 2.8 percent increase in property value associated with simply being near open space.
In many neighborhoods, this isn’t chump change. The 36 refuges the researchers examined were found to increase local property values by a whopping $300 million, meaning benefits for both homeowners and local communities’ tax offices. So, really, the case may be made that wildlife refuges actually pay for themselves.
The New York Times writes that this report may be defense against House Republicans who “would like to see federal lands sold off to raise money and to encourage development.” Perhaps it’s just a matter of better making the case with real data to everyone.
As part of the effort, the Fish and Wildlife Service will update its analysis of the economic impacts of refuges in terms of tourist spending. One of their studies found that “34.8 million visits to American wildlife refuges in fiscal 2006 generated $1.7 billion in sales, nearly 27,000 jobs and $542.8 million in employment income in regional economies.”
Trust-worthy data can help establish the understanding that wildlife refuges not only provide critical value for migrating and often endangered species but also help people and communities. While landscape architects and other working in environmental design and ecological restoration understand the inherent biological value of wildlife reserves, in many communities facing huge budget crunches, the economic case must also be made for investing in places just for wildlife, whether they are natural sites, restored ones, or even designed from scratch.
Image credit: ASLA 2008 General Design Honor Award. Gannett/USA Today Headquarters, McLean, Virginia / Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, Ltd., Alexandria, Virginia