Report finds it pays -- literally -- to live near wilderness

The iconic granite El Capitan is shrouded by fog on a winter day in Yosemite National Park.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

A new study confirms what most of us already knew: National parks and wilderness areas are drivers for increased job growth and higher levels of per capita income in the West. People like to live near pretty places.

The report, “West Is Best: How Public Lands in the West Create a Competitive Economic Advantage,” was prepared by Headwaters Economics and outlines how the West’s 355 million acres of public forests, parks and monuments are attracting high-wage industries and creating jobs.


One eye-opener: In rural counties where more than 30% of the land base held some form of federal protection, jobs increased by 345% over the last 40 years. By comparison, similar counties with no protected federal public lands increased employment by 83%.

And the study found that firms near parks and wilderness areas pay their employees more. In 2010, per capita income in rural counties with 100,000 acres of protected public lands was on average $4,360 higher than per capita income in similar counties with no protected public lands.

The study found that high-tech sector jobs were sprouting in areas near recreational amenities such as skiing, kayaking and hiking, giving the region a competitive advantage. The shift from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy has attracted tech and healthcare firms, in part because of the natural beauty, helping the region outperform the rest of the country over the last four decades.

Read more here.