Studies Show That Conserving Land Brings Economic, Ecological Bonuses

The Takeaway: Conservation support from the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program and other partners directs millions of extra dollars to local coastal economies.

The mainly rural nature of Virginia’s Eastern Shore differs significantly from the state’s fast-developing James City and New Kent Counties, which are part of the Lower Chickahominy River Watershed. Yet a pair of economic studies show that land conservation action in each region funnels millions of extra dollars into local coastal economies while it also safeguards migratory songbird habitat and boosts water quality. For three decades, conservation grants and technical assistance from the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program have helped preserve thousands of acres.

Through its members, the Virginia Eastern Shore Conservation Alliance (a partnership for conservation funding) has acquired habitat areas where birds along the U.S. East Coast can rest and refuel during migrations to Central and South America. A 2016 economic analysis from George Mason University and Urban Analytics revealed the added benefits of these efforts:

  • Economic activities associated with land conservation—such as natural areas, wildlife refuges, and park operations—benefited from $21.9 million in added spending
  • Economic activities associated with aquaculture—which land conservation supports by improving water quality—yielded $156.7 million in extra spending
  • Economic activities associated with tourism generated an extra $51.4 million in extra spending because of land conservation efforts

In the state’s Lower Chickahominy River Watershed region, land in Charles City, James City, and New Kent Counties rates high in ecological value, while the latter two counties also are the focus of intense development pressure. Despite this pressure, a 2018-2019 regional study by George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis revealed the following conservation benefits:

  • In 2018, businesses that benefited directly from the region’s land conservation efforts totaled more than $8 million, bolstering gross regional product by about $4.4 million and supporting over 100 jobs.
  • Every $1.00 spent annually in Charles City County to provide public services supporting conservation easements yields extra county revenue estimated at $1.28. Similarly, in James City County every $1.00 spent annually yields county revenue estimated at $1.53, and in New Kent County every $1.00 spent annually yields county revenue estimated at $1.21.
  • A limited review of one riverside property development suggests that regional water quality improvements linked to conservation practices could potentially benefit landowners by millions of dollars in property values.

Grants from the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program made the two studies possible, and program staff members continue to engage others in efforts to acquire and conserve land, touting the ecological and economic benefits of doing so. (2020/Updated 2021)

Partners: George Mason University, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Urban Analytics, Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, Virginia Departments of Conservation & Recreation and Game & Inland Fisheries, Virginia Eastern Shore Conservation Alliance, Virginia Eastern Shore Land Trust