Special Programs

Healthy Lands, Healthy Economies

Protecting natural areas has a very real, tangible effect on our local and regional economies and the health of our communities. Open space and working landscapes provide a variety of services and benefits to our communities, including:

  • clean, reliable drinking water
  • protection from natural hazards such as floods and coastal storm surges
  • long-term food production and security
  • materials for building construction and pharmaceuticals
  • carbon sequestration and climate change resiliency
  • recreation and tourism opportunities
  • public health benefits, and many others.

Studies from other areas in the United States indicate that the economic values associated with the protection and stewardship of these services can be substantial. According to Earth Economics, thenatural areas in Washington State’s Puget Sound Basinprovide benefits of between $9.7 and $83 billion ineconomic value to the region’s economy every year.New York City’s water utility has dedicated millionsto conservation projects in the Catskill/Delaware

River watershed after recognizing the natural water filtration service provided by an intact watershed ecosystem is a more effective investment than spending $6-10 billion on a water treatment facility with $300 million in annual maintenance costs.

A regional collaboration led by the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County, the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, and the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District has formed to address these questions:

  • What services are provided by natural areas and working lands and who are the beneficiaries?
  • What is the economic value provided by these services to the local communities, region and state? What is the return on investment on conservation projects to-date?
  • What are the roadblocks to developing cost-effective and multi-benefit conservation actions in the project areas and beyond? What solutions are possible?
  • What are innovative, economically sound financing mechanisms for conservation of natural areas and working landscapes?

Funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Coastal Conservancy, the Healthy Lands & Healthy Economies Initiative is a three-year project working with a broad array of local, state, and federal partners to develop a suite of tools and recommendations to help decision-makers better understand and evaluate the economic value of our natural resources.

Anticipated Initiative Outcomes:

  • Identification of key ecosystem services and beneficiaries in each county and the region.
  • Reports for each county quantifying the economic value of natural areas and working landscapes.
  • Formation of local and regional stakeholder groups to inform the project, build capacity, and ensure relevance to a wide audience.
  • Evaluation of the financial efficiencies associated with enhanced coordination and integration between public and private entities.
  • Economic evaluation of existing conservation programs and impact of investments to date.
  • Integrated conservation analysis and decision support systems for modeling and prioritizing future action.
  • Development of long-term funding strategies that place conservation within the larger public health, regional planning, and economic development frameworks.
  • Documentation of approach and findings, as well as development of communication tools.

The Initiative will provide rigorous economic data about ecosystem benefits that will enable local leaders to analyze future capital, infrastructure and other expenditures through a conservation lens.

The Healthy Lands & Healthy Economies Initiative is expected to significantly enhance public understanding of the role that conservation plays in maintaining healthy and sustainable local economies.


Download the Healthy Lands & Healthy Economies Regional Report or Local Report for Santa Cruz County .

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