The following is a guest post by Jessica Goad and Kiley Kroh from the Center for American Progress (CAP). Ms. Goad serves as the Manager of Research and Outreach for the CAP’s Public Lands Project, and Ms. Kroh serves as the Associate Director for Ocean Communications at the Washington-based organization.
While coastal degradation is a serious concern for communities throughout the country, it poses a particular threat to the ecosystem and economy of the Mississippi River Delta. Louisiana is home to 40 percent of the wetlands in the continental United States but experiences about 80 percent of all wetlands losses across the country. This not only harms habitats, but removes billions of dollars’ worth of natural flood protection and environmental services from coastal communities. Further, the damage wrought by the BP oil spill continues to threaten industries such as tourism and fisheries that drive local economies throughout the Gulf Coast. However, restoration projects and their recreation benefits are putting residents of the Mississippi River Delta back to work and rehabilitating these critical resources.
For example, the Central Wetlands Unit (CWU) is a 30,000-acre expanse of degraded marsh near downtown New Orleans. As a new study conducted by Restore America’s Estuaries found, the $72-million project is on track to create 280 direct jobs and 400 indirect and induced jobs, for a total of 680 jobs over the project’s life. Once restored, the project will provide long-term ecosystem services and economic benefits for the community – and is just one example of the vast potential offered by the conservation economy.
Last week, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report called “The Jobs Case for Conservation: Creating Opportunity Through Stewardship of America’s Public Lands.” The report lays out the employment and fiscal impacts of different categories of the conservation economy—recreation, restoration, renewable energy development and sustainable forest management. We demonstrate that protecting lands and oceans creates jobs, that policymakers should promote policies that manage lands for the conservation value, and that the conservation economy has already created hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country.
Another CAP report released earlier this year with Oxfam entitled “Beyond Recovery” found that addressing the Gulf’s challenges with a regional plan for ecosystem restoration can directly create tens of thousands of jobs. As both publications highlight, restoration jobs also encompass a wide range of education and skill level, from construction workers to contractors to engineers to scientists helping ecosystems return to their undamaged states.
A handful of government and academic studies have attempted to quantify the jobs impacts from conservation, but in “The Jobs Case for Conservation,” we found from various analyses that in general, every $1 million invested in restoration activities creates between 13 and 30 direct, indirect and induced jobs, many in the private sector. The same holds true for similar projects undertaken in the Gulf Coast region – analysis conducted in “Beyond Recovery” found that each $1 million in investment in wetland restoration can create 29 new jobs. The design, construction, operation and monitoring of large-scale coastal and marine restoration projects bear the potential for sustaining job creation and increasing ecosystem services vital to supporting existing coastal industries such as fishing, tourism and shipping.
The myriad jobs that can be created from recreation are critical to the future of coastal Louisiana and the Mississippi River delta. A recent report from the Department of the Interior found that recreation on its lands created 388,000 jobs in 2010 alone. These jobs include direct, indirect and induced jobs, which in the Mississippi River Delta means work and revenue for outfitters and guides to take visitors to fishing in the Gulf; gear companies that sell equipment to hunters and anglers headed for the Delta National Wildlife Refuge; and the hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other service businesses that cater to visitors from around the world such as restaurants outside of the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.
As both CAP reports emphasize, economic and environmental recovery are not mutually exclusive. In fact, investing in wetlands and coastal restoration creates nearly six times as many jobs as investments in traditional economic drivers such as oil and gas. In these tough economic times, facilitating coastal restoration presents a perfect opportunity to create jobs and support small businesses, while simultaneously protecting some of America’s most unique ecosystems and prosperous fishing and shellfish industries.
Policymakers both regionally and in Washington, D.C. have a clear opportunity to support the ideas suggested in both CAP reports. In particular, we need to boost government capacity to conduct restoration activities, fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and pass the RESTORE the Gulf Coast States Act. The RESTORE Act would direct 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines charged to BP and other responsible parties directly to the five Gulf Coast states to immediately begin ecological and environmental restoration, and establish a National Endowment for the Oceans supporting ocean and coastal restoration efforts in all 35 coastal and Great Lakes states. With these and more policies in place, coastal Louisiana will be poised to gain the jobs and financial benefits of the conservation economy.