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Taking a broader look at the value of natural resources

Lime Kiln State Park on San Juan Island is a prime spot for watching killer whales from the shore
San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau
Lime Kiln State Park on San Juan Island is a prime spot for watching killer whales from the shore

Lawmakers in Olympia are struggling to close a $5 billion budget gap, and, like many state programs, natural resource agencies are on the chopping block. A study by a Tacoma-based non-profit says cutting those services too deeply could cost a lot more money than it saves.

Economists at Earth Economics have been studying questions like, How much are state parks worth? What’s the economic value of conservation done by, say, the Department of Fish and Wildlife? Executive Director David Batker says their research shows that a dollar spent on natural resource conservation has a huge multiplier effect.

We found about 132,000 jobs in this state that are dependent on natural resource conservation and a more-or-less healty environment

Batker’s group found that wildlife recreation alone – hunting, fishing and wildlife watching – generates more than $3 billion worth of economic activity each year. For example, the state has 96 natural resource employees in Grays Harbor County, on the Washington coast. Earth Economics calculates those state jobs sustain nearly 2,800 private sector jobs in retail, hospitality and other industries. 

If you, say, lost those state employees, closed down the parks, then people are going to go elsewhere and they're not going to have that income in Grays Harbor, and you will have a shrinkage of private sector jobs.

Findings for some other Washington counties ...

King County:

  • 409 state natural resource employees sustain 15,540 private sector jobs and generate $998,329,000 annual income

Pierce County:

  • 82 state natural resource employees sustain 5,724 private sector jobs and generate $310,581.000 annual income

Snohomish County:

  • 90 state natural resource employees sustain2,394 private sector jobs and generate $115,841,000 annual income

Nonetheless, the reality of the huge budget gap means cuts are coming to the Parks Department, Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Ecology.
Senator Kevin Ranker, a Democrat from Friday Harbor, is pushing for a different approach, one that preserves more of what he calls “boots on the ground.”

Looking at things like H.R., looking at things like I.T., looking at things like communications. Do we really need every agency to have its own individual silo, or can some of these functions be shared?

Ranker says consolidating back-office services could mean fewer cuts to scientists, park rangers and other front-line workers who help create economic value by protecting the environment.

Lawmakers have until April 24th to agree on a balanced budget, or go into special session. 

Liam Moriarty started with KPLU in 1996 as our freelance correspondent in the San Juan Islands. He’s been our full-time Environment Reporter since November, 2006. In between, Liam was News Director at Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Oregon for three years and reported for a variety of radio, print and web news sources in the Northwest. He's covered a wide range of environment issues, from timber, salmon and orcas to oil spills, land use and global warming. Liam is an avid sea kayaker, cyclist and martial artist.