February 5, 2001
Contact: David Lewis, Dept. of Resource Economics and Policy,
207-581-3179, david_lewis@umenfa.maine.edu
Andrew Plantinga, Oregon State University Department of Agricultural
and Resource Economics, 541-737-1423, plantinga@orst.edu.
Nick Houtman, Dept. of Public Affairs, 207-581-3777, houtman@maine.edu


Editors: David Lewis is available for interviews at 207-581-3179.
Andrew Plantinga recently transferred to Oregon State University and
can be reached at 541-737-1423.

        ORONO, Maine -- In counties across the northern U.S., conservation
lands have had little effect on growth rates for local population and
jobs, according to a new study published this week by the Maine
Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station at the University of Maine.
The findings provide a first look at the impact of conservation lands
on rural economies.
        David Lewis, a master's student from Yarmouth, Maine in the Department
of Resource Economics and Policy wrote the report with Andrew
Plantinga, an assistant professor, formerly at UMaine and now at Oregon
State University. They focused their study on trends in counties from
Maine to Minnesota between 1990 and 1997. Their goal was to determine
if the presence of conservation lands helps or hinders local economies.
        They found no evidence that conservation lands lead to drastic
employment declines or to economic growth. The results suggest that
economic development impacts should not be the primary factor in
decisions about establishing new conservation areas such as national
forests or parks, the authors conclude. 
        Conservation lands include areas such as national and state forests,
wildlife refuges and national and state parks. Among the seven states
in the study, Maine has the smallest portion of its area in
conservation at 5.4 percent, and Michigan and Minnesota have the
largest at 37 percent and 33.3 percent respectively. Altogether, state
governments own about six out of every ten of these acres. Federal
ownership accounts for the rest.
        "This is a good area to look at because the climate, the population
and the rural economies are relatively similar across the region," says
Lewis, "but the amount of land managed for conservation purposes varies
a lot. That allows us to see if conservation land has an effect on
migration to a county or the number of jobs."
        Some counties in the study area have no conservation land while others
include as much as 50 percent of their land under such management.
        Lewis and Plantinga used data from U.S. Census reports and created a
mathematical model to estimate the relative importance of conservation
lands as a factor in population changes and job growth. Their model
also considers social and economic factors that could affect rural
economic performance. Among them were unemployment, family income,
education levels, recreational opportunities and public expenditures on
education, police and medical needs.
        They found that the presence of conservation lands had a slightly
positive impact on net migration into a county but no direct effect on
employment growth. However, since employment growth is directly related
to migration, conservation lands indirectly increase employment, the
said. In both cases, the effect was small.
        Their study did not look at the ages or income levels of migrants into
counties or at the composition of employment in local economies.
However, they extended their analysis to consider the relative impacts
of conservation lands managed for preservation and multiple-use
        Policies for preservation exclude timber harvesting and hunting.
National parks and some state-owned areas such as Baxter State Park in
Maine, fall into that category. As multiple-use areas, national forests
tend to allow both in addition to recreational pursuits.
        A turning point for national forest management occurred in the late
1980s, the report notes. Prior to that time, national forest lands
tended to be managed largely for timber harvesting. During the 1980s,
pursuant to federal law, national forest managers rewrote land
management plans to put more emphasis on recreational and environmental
values. After 1990, the new plans led to a reduction in timber harvests
by more than two-thirds and a decline in clearcuts by 80 percent in
national forests across the country.
        Despite these trends, local employment did not drop. To explain this
finding, the authors suggest two possibilities. Either conservation
lands have no effect on employment, or losses in the forest products
sector were offset by gains in tourism. Their analysis did not study
either possibility.
        The report is available from Barbara Harrity at the Experiment Station
by calling 207-581-3211, or via e-mail, harrity@maine.edu.