Connecticut’s Eco-recreation Economy | College of the Environment think tank

May 29th, 2012 | By | Category: Top Story

By Helen Poulos, James Workman, Clement Loo, Anne deBoer, and Julia Michaels

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s new “Still Revolutionary” tourism campaign will no doubt bolster the state’s service industry, but we have yet to see how bringing more recreation dollars into our state will impact the environment. The two-year, $27 million marketing initiative will promote tourism throughout Connecticut including ecologically fragile locations along the banks of the Connecticut River that support key recreation-based industries like fishing, boating, bird-watching, and hunting.

Connecticut River slithers through Middletown, home of Wesleyan University (cjzurcher)

The ‘still revolutionary’ tourism campaign is filled with images from the Connecticut River Valley including a romantic couple riding the Essex Steam Train, river boat cruises, and the iconic Gillette Castle. Water-associated recreation activities like these represent real, significant, and measureable revenues for the state through higher incomes, job growth, and economic productivity.

Yet, promoting tourism that attempts to capture the ‘I Love New York’ market may fail to foster an ecologically healthy Connecticut River. Put plainly: as an increasingly affluent area like the Northeast generates more expendable income, water-based outdoor pursuits attract an increasingly large share of that income. But recreational use payments are part of unrecognized markets that both demand and supply healthy aquatic ecosystems as an enormous ‘return on investment.’

Decisions about equitable and riparian management depend on whether elected officials favor ‘jobs’ or ‘tax revenues’ or both. Governor Malloy has made it clear through his budget allocations that he wants to bolster both jobs and tax revenues in the recreation sector. But, the stigma remains that wetlands, minimum flow requirements, dam removals are non-market luxuries that contribute no economic value on their own. As we shall see, that is hardly the case, on today’s Connecticut or any river.

Hunters and fishermen want flows and clean water. As a service to these core constituencies, the Department of the Interior tracks the spending of hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts. We can approximate that amount as a proportion of the land and blue-water area within the Connecticut River Watershed (CRW), and in the process begin to appreciate the value provided by healthy rivers.

As seen in Figure 1, this value, while unseen, is hardly insignificant. Nationwide, the Interior Department puts water-based recreation revenues at $1 trillion per year, and the Trust for Public Land estimates the value for the four watershed states at $2.6 billion. If we consider that the CRW covers approximately 35% of these states, that’s $920 million annually.

Blue water in the CRW comprises just over 18.2% of the total water area across Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Freshwater sportfishing revenues for these states are $964 million dollars according to the 2006 National Survey of Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, meaning that blue water alone generates $175 million dollars a year.

Green water is comprised of the healthy forests that drive how much water gets it into the Connecticut. Non-fishing wildlife-related activities typically occur here, and in 2006 they totaled $539 million across the four watershed-states, or $431 million within the CRW since forests constitute a surprising 80% of the watershed. Even if we use a more conservative estimate figuring that the most wildlife watching and hunting takes place on publicly-accessible lands (47% of the watershed), we still reach upwards of $253 million dollars annually.

These figures convincingly demonstrate that not only do we have a tremendous amount to gain by promoting ecologically sound tourism and river management that leaves the water in the river, but exactly how much we stand to gain.

Water is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts, but people pay more to use healthy rivers. We have a lot to lose both ecologically and economically if we fail to ensure river flows over the long term. Projections suggest that decreases in stream flow could come as high as a 33% increase in monthly brook trout mortality, which would likely put this key angling species and Connecticut’s fly-fishing market at risk of extinction. Over two-dozen waterfowl species attract scores of birdwatchers to Connecticut each year, but they could become extinct in the near future without careful management.

So while the new tourism campaign is sure to bring people to the state who remember the importance of Connecticut within the deep-rooted history of New England, let us not forget that a healthy environment will provide the long-term return on Malloy’s tourism investment.

• The authors are members of the Wesleyan University College of the Environment think tank.

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