Before areas are converted to industrialization in the name of the environment, they should be studied for their current value.
Study values Carbon County’s natural assets and open spaces have an estimated value of $800 million.
August 06. 2018 | Amy Miller | Times News Online
The sun rises over Mauch Chunk Lake, just one of the natural resources Carbon County has to offer. Carbon Chamber and Economic Development Corporation recently released its return on environment study in the hopes of showing the importance of preserving the county’s natural resources.
Carbon County’s natural assets and open spaces have an estimated value of $800 million.
Kathy Henderson of the Carbon Chamber and Economic Development Corporation told county commissioners last week that a yearlong study was completed to show how much money is saved annually through the natural resources that can be found in the 247,605 acres that make up the county.
Henderson said the natural resources found in Carbon County save an estimated $652.4 million in natural system services; $1.5 million in air pollution through the removal of trees; and $6.4 million through the removal and storage of carbon by plants and soil.
Natural resources also contribute $108.8 million in revenue through outdoor recreation; $26.5 million in economic output; $5.1 million in outdoor recreation state and local taxes; and $14.4 million in added annual property tax revenue from properties in proximity to water.
“Nature is obviously serious business,” Henderson said. “The economic benefits that are provided in this study are a way to provide governments to do their future planning with keeping nature in mind when we look at how we are going to develop our area, where we are going to build new buildings or industrial parks and still be concerned about natural resources and keeping them healthy.”
The “return on environment” study was funded through an Audubon Society grant from the William Penn Foundation and compiled by the Kittatinny Coalition, Keystone Conservation Trust, the Carbon Chamber and Economic Development Corporation and Wildlands Conservancy.
The point was to show, in dollar values, just how important natural resources are and the impacts they have both in saving money and contributing to a growing tax base.
“The study puts a dollar value on the natural resources that we enjoy here in Carbon County and it is one of our competitive advantages when it comes to drawing people in from outside of the county,” Henderson said.
“If you would have to build a system to clean the water that goes into the Lehigh River, this puts a value on how much that would cost where nature does that for free.
“Even though we need to have economic development and prosperity in our county we still need to be mindful of the natural resources that we have that do a lot of these functions for free. It is difficult to have a strong economy without a healthy environment.”
Dennis DeMara of the Wildlands Conservancy added that the report shows both an overall countywide view, as well as drills down to each municipality and will provide councils, supervisors and planning commissions with information to best find ways to plan for the future on the economic development level, while also sustaining the natural resources.
“This helps local and county offices see where we can develop and where we should leave alone,” Henderson said.
The municipal level reports will be presented to each borough or township as a way to open up discussion on the best practices for the future.
“It’s so important to encourage municipalities to embrace the idea of taking a look at what they would like their municipality to look like in the next 10 or 20 years,” Commissioner William O’Gurek said following Henderson’s presentation.
Looking toward the future
Carbon County’s major economic driver going forward is outdoor recreation, Henderson said.
She said outdoor recreation is expected to grow over the next few decades as an increasing number of millennials and retirees flock to rural areas to find outdoor recreation.
“They want to enjoy nature at its best, and that’s what Carbon County has to offer,” she said, adding that outdoor recreation is also a leading way for companies looking to build or expand to find what Carbon County offers.
“We want to grow in manufacturing, health care and all those industries that provide good jobs for not just our county residents but for anyone who lives outside the county but we also have to take into consideration the natural resources that we need to protect because tourism is one of our biggest economic drivers. We have to find a healthy balance between the two.”
To achieve this, Henderson said that there are things both residents and businesses can do, including removing invasive plants, minimizing any kinds of disturbances to natural areas, such as not blacktopping excessive amounts of an area; building better drainage around infrastructure and creating areas to help insects such as butterflies and bees pollinate.
For more information, the full return on environment report is available online at www.carboncountychamber.org/pages/roe.