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My Turn: More than memories in the state’s outdoors

It is the height of summer in New Hampshire, and many families and visitors are planning to get outdoors and enjoy the many vacation and recreation opportunities the state offers.

While the Granite State’s woods and rivers help create memories for families, they also create jobs and economic value for our communities. And the Legislature recently drafted and sent to Gov. Maggie Hassan legislation to try to quantify those benefits. The bill establishes a committee to study the status of land conservation in the state.

The phrase “ecosystem services” is a wonky term little understood by the public, but it is an increasingly popular attempt to quantify the value of the outdoors.

As an economist, I can explain the term, but as a native of northern New England, I also take pride in New Hampshire’s natural abundance. My father worked in a paper mill in Skowhegan, Maine, and I grew up playing in the woods and swimming in the Kennebec River with my brothers.

The memories of those days are wonderful, but as an economist, I have learned to view New England’s woods through a different lens – the hard, specific numbers which define return on investment. And the research done by our team at the Trust for Public Land shows New England’s public lands are one of the best investments our state and region can make.

Recently, we looked at the ROI for New Hampshire, and we found that every $1 spent on conserving land returns $11 and supports jobs for thousands of people in a variety of industries, from tourism and recreation to agriculture, forestry and fishing. (

In the last five years, our team has done these types of studies across the nation, from New England to southern Arizona. The numbers vary, ranging from $4 to $11 in ROI for every $1 spent. New Hampshire’s $11-for-$1 ties with Maine for the highest ROI we have ever measured anywhere in the nation.

And the value of natural goods and services protected comes on top of money made by outdoor recreation in New Hampshire. We found that residents and visitors spend $4.2 billion each year on outdoor recreation, which directly supports about 49,000 jobs in the state.

So remember, as you enjoy the summer weather our forests and our public lands provide far more than clean water, stunning beauty, beautiful pictures and traffic-clogged roads. They are a bedrock source of money and jobs for many of our neighbors in the region.

(Jessica Sargent is the senior economist and head of Conservation Economics at the Trust for Public Land.)

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