Economic Impact Of Natural Resource Conservation In Somerset County

By: Len Lichvar, District Manager, Somerset Conservation District

The economic impact of natural resource conservation is not always easy to determine.  However, verified documentation does exist of its value and contribution to the local economy and job sustainability and creation.

At a Somerset County Chamber of Commerce event in 2014 Western Carolina University Economist Dr. Steve Morse documented and determined that if it were not for tourism generated tax dollars each resident of Somerset County would pay $564.00 more in state and local taxes. 

The data also documents that $184,681.00 is spent on the arts, entertainment and recreation every day in Somerset County.

The data was derived from the PA Department of Tourism through studies conducted by Oxford Economics in the Laurel Highlands region of the state.

Tourism dollars in Somerset County are generated from a variety of sources that include the Flight 93 Memorial, Quecreek Mine Rescue site, proximity to the PA Turnpike and major resorts. 

However, tourism is also generated from the improving natural resources such as land and water used for recreation now available more than ever before in the county today.

The Somerset Conservation District and organizations that it supports and empowers such as the Stonycreek–Conemaugh River Improvement Project (SCRIP), Somerset County Conservancy, Casselman River Watershed Association, Shade Creek Watershed Association, Paint Creek Regional Watershed Association and many other volunteer and professional watershed partners work successfully to conserve and enhance those resources every day and have done so for decades that have garnered state and national acclaim.  

Portions of the economic impact of that effort are proven and documented.

As an example, a mile of a trout stocked fishery, according to the PA Fish and Boat Commission, is worth $73,986.00 a year to the local economy. 

A very conservative estimate of 16 miles of restored fishery in the county has largely been due to the projects of SCRIP and the Somerset Conservation District and the partners it empowers and supports which totals a value of 1,183,776.00 of economic value each year to Somerset County.

It should be noted that neither of these organizations receive any Somerset County tax dollars.

A conservative and older document shows that five miles of restored whitewater rafting, now available plus more on the Stonycreek River, is valued at $1.2 million of economic value to the local economy each year.

This impact too is derived directly from the regions improving water quality that has been the result of the local orchestrated resource conservation efforts.

These documented impacts do not even include the less verified values of the Somerset District’s technical assistance to the agriculture community that enables farmers to maintain and improve the economic vitality and conservation values of their businesses.

It also does not include the Erosion and Sedimentation Control Program that minimizes runoff and pollution impacts to the county’s waterways thus sustaining and improving their ability to support both industrial and recreational use.

Dr. Morse makes the point that “Years ago preserving open space and conserving water was believed to be a roadblock to economic development.  Today, because of the outdoor adventure tourism market, these resources are now looked on as an economic asset by creating tax income and sustaining and creating jobs in the region.”

Dr. Morse also believes that, “The potential for growth in the tourism market and its economic impacts is very possible and likely.”

Because of the on the ground resource conservation projects generated by the District and its many partners the combined impact of them has been a major contributor in the reduction of the burden of taxes on the Somerset County taxpayer and no doubt others throughout the region.

Please see the Somerset Conservation District report “Future AMD Restoration Costs and Economic Benefits in the Stonycreek River Watershed” available on the District’s website.

(Photo: Oven Run passive mine drainage treatment system, Somerset County Conservancy.)


Since this article was published, the Somerset Conservation District is now involved in a new project with the multi-county Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape Initiative to complete a return on investment study to document the economic returns from investing in recreation and natural resource protection and restoration in Fayette, Somerset, Westmoreland and portions of Bedford and Cambria counties.

The project has retained Key-Log Economics to conduct the study, which is just in its beginning stages.

Len Lichvar is District Manager for the Somerset County Conservation District.  He can be contacted by calling 814-445-4652.

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[Posted: Nov. 5, 2018]


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