New Report: Open Space Contributes as Much as $25 Billion in Value to Regional Economy Each Year


Contact: Matt Chadsey, Project Leader, Earth Economics

The Regional Open Space Strategy for Central Puget Sound (The ROSS),a project of the University of Washington Green Futures Lab, released the Open Space Valuation for Central Puget Sound today. The report, prepared by Earth Economics, is the most comprehensive to date, providing leading-edge data on the economic contribution open space has on the economy and communities of Central Puget Sound, the region that includes King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties. 

Earth Economics placed the value of natural areas in Central Puget Sound at no less than $328 billion, with an annual contribution to the regional economy of at least $11.4 billion and possibly exceeding $25 billion.  (Download the report.)

“Open space services in Central Puget Sound are critical, multi-billion dollar economic assets that provide our communities with increased protection, resiliency, and health,” said David Batker, Executive Director of Earth Economics.

The report details how regional open space -- such as forests, fields, wetlands, beaches and parks – provides ecosystem services like clean water, clean air, and flood protection, wildlife habitat, as well as energy, raw materials and a multitude of opportunities for recreation, all of which benefit health and the local economy.

"Forests and other open spaces contribute so much to our Pacific Northwest quality of life, and this report helps quantify some of that value for us.  It will be a powerful tool for planning in the region," said Charlotte Garrido, Kitsap County Commissioner.

Commenting on the report's findings, Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said, “We’ve always known that open space is a valuable asset to our communities and the region, but we’ve never had a full accounting. This report will help us evaluate the true costs and benefits of development and conservation projects.”

In addition, the report highlights the connection between open space and climate resilience. Open space and its services, such as flood protection, fresh water supply, and wildlife habitats, will play a key role to the region’s ability to adjust and adapt to the coming stresses of population growth and global warming. 

These benefits are extremely notable in light of recent weather trends in the region. The heat-waves that have characterized the last few weeks can place an increased level of stress onto the local environment – challenging trees and plants, reducing river flow, changing the timing of wildlife's food supplies, and accelerating the spread of invasive species and disease.  Extreme weather events also strain governmental resources with the need to provide added services like cooling stations and emergency medical and fire response. Maintaining healthy and robust open spaces is essential to the environment’s, and society's ability to adapt to these threats, as well as bounce back once conditions return to the status quo. 

Open spaces like fields and meadows, can also act as barriers for large-scale fires, which have been prevalent this year with instances in Marysville and Olympia. By creating a defensible space between forest and human-made developments, fires trying to cross these barriers often burn out, avoiding millions of dollars in residential and commercial damages. 

Urban forests and parks can help to cool cities and clean the air. These spaces can provide a welcome retreat for city residents during heat waves, in addition to the role they play as habitat for a variety of species.  Such open space also helps to infiltrate water and reduce polluted runoff entering Puget Sound.

Commenting on the report's findings, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy said, "From Mount Rainier, to the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, to Chambers Bay, open spaces are a boon to our regional economy attracting outdoor enthusiasts, birders and tourists, in addition to the many natural benefits they provide.”

Lastly, healthy, functioning ecosystems are able to adapt and change with local conditions over time, meaning that within reason, they will continue to provide clean water, clean air, and many other services on which we depend.

"Of course we need to make fiscally responsible decisions in our planning, but we have never had a full accounting of the value that open space provides to our communities and our region. This report will provide a powerful planning foundation for the ROSS and the region." Said Nancy Rottle, Director of the Green Futures Lab at the University of Washington.

Failure of these systems and reduction of the services they provide will clearly come at significant cost to the economy.  Replacing the services that open spaces naturally provide – such as clean water, clean air, and disaster mitigation – would require not only billions of dollars, but also time for technological development, scheduled funding, and implementation.  

It is critical that we value these assets for everything that they provide. If not for their ability to mitigate ongoing disasters and threats in the greater Seattle area, then for their ability to provide us with necessities and pleasures that we often take for granted. And if not for their ability to combat and help us to adapt to a changing climate, then for their ability to save us, the tax-paying citizenry, billions and billions of dollars. 

The ROSS is a collaborative effort to integrate and advance the many activities underway to conserve and enhance the ecological, economic, recreational, and cultural vitality of the Central Puget Sound region. The ROSS is creating this vision for regional open space and equipping our communities to implement and steward that goal. The project is facilitated by the University of Washington’s Green Futures Lab and is funded by the Bullitt Foundation and The Russell Family Foundation.

Earth Economics is an independent, non-partisan non-profit dedicated to researching and applying the economic solutions of tomorrow, today. Since 1998, Earth Economics has been providing robust, science-based, ecologically sound economic analysis, policy recommendations and tools to positively transform regional, national and international economics, and asset accounting systems.



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