For many Americans, our national parks and public conservation lands are part of our national identity and heritage — Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Everglades — just to name a few. Until now, we’ve reserved and protected unique landscapes, special places and habitats for native species because we recognized we have a responsibility to future generations to ensure America’s natural environment and treasures remain a part of its landscape.
However, this view is evolving into a broader understanding of the conservation movement. Increasingly, people are becoming aware that, in addition to the obvious social and environmental reasons, there is an increased understanding of the economic benefits inherent in actively advocating for preservation. The most obvious and immediate economic indicators will reveal the enormous contribution that conservation makes to regional wealth and employment, largely as a result of tourism. Tourism, generally, is a key driver in many regional economies, and there is increasing appeal of natural attractions throughout our country.
This paradigm shift has become more evident and is more crucial now than ever before. In light of facing financial challenges, there is an increased need for us to connect the economic dots and shine a light on our worth as a profession that ultimately adds to the economic strength of the communities we serve through our advocacy.
Finally, it becomes incumbent upon us to seize the moment and fully educate today’s youth, professionals and advocates alike about the stewardship and preservation of our natural environment, empowering them with the tools to pass the torch for generations to come. Park and recreation agencies are leaders in youth development when it comes to conservation. We must continue to provide crucial opportunities to not only highlight an agency’s environmental education programming and venues, but also to serve as learning laboratories to ensure our young people understand what is needed to carry the conservation movement into the future by balancing both the ecological and economic values as they go.
Detrick L. Stanford, CPRP, is NRPA's Chair of the Board of Directors.