sustainable land use

job creation through conservation

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When most people hear the word “environmentalism” they think of job loss.   Industry helps along this mistaken conclusion because it almost always  overestimates the cost of complying with environmental regulation .  We hear plenty about the costs but never about the outcome — that complying is not only less costly, it creates greater efficiency and ultimately improves productivity.  Increased productivity equals new jobs or better pay.  

But what of the economic impact of habitat creation or wildlife conservation?  This is not so clear.  The costs and benefits of conservation are most often tested in discrete locations where one can control the various economic and conservation variables, such as  this study of an area in the Atlantic forest of Paraquay.  But in a robust economy with many moving parts, it becomes hard to assess the impact of conservation in an objective way.  This is true for the Delaware Bayshore. When asked what are the economic benefits of conservation, conservationists will most often point to the positive effects of tourism.  But the effects are often exaggerated, and what little does occur is mostly lost in among all the other tourist income activities — from antique shopping to riding the latest hair-raising rides on the boardwalk of Wildwood.  Carpenters working on our house in 2009

Job creation is a better measure because it is a very concrete method of assessing the impact of an activity on a community.  If you are building houses, then you are creating jobs, if only for a short period.   Hard as I try, I cannot see any real job-creating benefit of conservation on recession-wracked communities of Delaware Bay.

Oddly enough, this became obvious to me while I was in Tierra del Fuego.  There the economy is in truly difficult straits.  The two main industries, oil and sheep ranching, are in decline. The national oil company, ENAP, is in the process of selling off many of its operations and is severely cutting staff.   Sheep ranching has changed in recent years.  Smaller ranches, or estancias, are gradually being consolidated into larger holdings meaning fewer jobs.  Most estancias are owned by wealthy patrons living in Punta Arenas or Santiago and managed by local people.  In this economy any new income would be visible.   

We recognized this years ago.  It was one reason why we helped create the Tierra del Fuego Bird Observatory which, after 5 years of work, is about to be made reality.  Hopefully this year a new center will open at the gateway to Tierra del Fuego (TDF) that will educate people about the area and create its own income through a variety of typical ecotourism methods, tours, tea shirts etc.  We hope there will be enough income toFuture home of the Tierra del Fuego Bird Observatory locatedo on the island of Tierra del Fuego in Chile. support the center and a few people to manage it.  We also hope for an increase in the awareness of the region which, in time, will increase visits.  In the short term though it is unlikely to create jobs and it’s long term impact depends on the other projects the observatory might engender. This will take time.  

But if one really wants to improve this economy in a way that improves the conservation of habitat and wildlife, then the real money is in the resource uses.  In TDF that mean wool, lambs, cattle and tourists.  It means better range management, sustainable improvements in production and the creation of value-added products like clothing from wool or leather made from the area.    Large scale habitat protection or restoration projects will bring work to the region.  Better access to Bahia Lomas will help attract more tourists.  

It is the samSheep along Bahia Lomas, Chilee in Delaware Bay.  Yes it would be good to have more tourism, it brings in some money and it helps create identify for the area.  But the “money” is in wise resource use.  We have to restore the fisheries and create sustainable commercial and recreational harvests in key species like blue crabs, weakfish, and potentially commercially valuable species like horseshoe crabs and sturgeon.  We need to create a better way to diversify agricultural products focusing on local markets.  We should focus on branded products. 

A classic example of creating a value-added product is the oysters grown along the shores of the bay, now called Cape May Salts.  These are the same oysters that were packed in barrels a century ago and canned even today.  The focus has always been on volume and the real value was depressed by the obliviousness of local merchants.  Now the Atlantic Cape Fishery Company branded the very same oysters as a product of this area, market them throughout the east coast and sells them at much higher prices that are competitive with high-price oysters from other areas.  The same could be done for fruits (peaches), vegetable ( tomatoes) and other products. Cape May Salts as reviewed by Philadelphia Weekly (click to see review)

This should be the work of conservationists; find ways to create real sustainable income, so that residents are enriched by a healthy functioning landscape and let conservation come from within instead of being imposed from outside.