Pebbles in Acadia National Park
The first light of dawn touches Cobblestone Beach in Acadia National Park, Maine. © Nick Hall


Invest in Nature

Small Investments, Big Returns

Invest in nature by supporting strong conservation funding and policies. Investments in nature bring big returns. They help America sustain healthy lands and waters that support thriving, resilient communities and dynamic economies.

Support Conservation, Support the Economy

Congress should invest in nature by supporting federal conservation programs. Investments in these programs bring big returns for a small federal investment.

Investment in land and water conservation, recreation and historic preservation represents 1 percent of the annual federal budget, but on-the-ground benefits such as cleaner water and coastal protection are much greater.

America’s natural, outdoor recreation and historic resources are an essential foundation for the economy and for the health and well-being of the American people.

Federal conservation programs support the following:

  • Local communities and small businesses that depend on America’s multi-billion-dollar recreation economy.
  • Farming, ranching, forestry and fishing jobs.
  • Safe and plentiful drinking water resources.
  • Resilient communities in the face of storms and droughts.
  • Reduction of flood and wildland fire risks.
  • Higher quality of life through local access to the outdoors, which helps businesses attract and keep employees.

Benefits of Investing in Nature

  • The Outdoor Industry Association found that outdoor recreation generates $887 billion in annual consumer spending for the U.S. economy.
  • The outdoor recreation economy directly supports 7.6 million American jobs and generates $125 million in federal, state and local tax revenue.
  • Natural systems are an efficient way to support thriving communities. Watersheds help store water and sustain clean water supplies.
  • Protecting and restoring natural coastal and freshwater systems can reduce impacts to communities from coastal storms and extreme rainfall events—often more cost effectively than other infrastructure—and enable resilient communities.
  • Healthy soils support 17 million agricultural jobs (or 9.3 percent of total U.S. employment). Healthy forests provide 3 million jobs, and healthy fisheries support nearly 1.8 million more.
Chart showing annual consumer spending by industry, highlighting outdoor recreation.
Annual Consumer Spending Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis, Personal Consumption Expenditures by Type of Product. Graphic from Outdoor Industry Association report, April 2017.

A Better Way: Invest in Nature

Funding for core science and conservation activities in the federal government is critical to effectively safeguard the environment. However, federal science and conservation programs have seen a steady decline in funding, both as a percentage of overall spending and in real dollar value.

There is a better way. Rather than cutting programs that conserve the country’s natural resources, America should look for ways to invest in nature to provide cost-effective solutions to some of its biggest national challenges. 

Infrastructure. Incorporating nature-based solutions in legislation to meet the nation’s infrastructure needs is a cost-effective strategy delivering multiple other community and economic benefits. An infrastructure package should also invest in improvements, such as modernization of the electric power grid, that move the United States toward a clean energy economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A comprehensive infrastructure platform also should help ensure healthy green infrastructure, including resilient forests, for the clean air and water it provides. Importantly, facilitating the delivery of infrastructure does not need to come at the expense of the quality of environmental reviews and public processes.

Along with improving roads, bridges and dams, America can invest in proven natural infrastructure solutions. For example, restoring reefs and wetlands can help shield coastal communities from storms while also providing clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and jobs. Planting trees and other innovative forms of green infrastructure helps cities absorb stormwater. Restoring forests and investing in better agricultural practices upstream helps ensure sustainable water supplies downstream.

Tax Reform. Tax credits or other fiscal incentives for the kind of nature-based solutions described above would be a cost-effective way to stimulate private investments in natural infrastructure that creates public benefits. Incentives for the donation or sale of easements and land for conservation should be maintained.

Funding for Conservation and Science. Funding for conservation and science programs has not kept pace with the United States’ growing economy and population, and Americans are paying the price. Congress should also ensure adequate funding for conservation and science programs at federal agencies, including important international programs the United States shares with allies.

Function 300 in the federal budget covers natural resources and environment spending.
That funding dipped below 1% of the budget in 2017. Source: White House Historical
Federal spending Function 300 in the federal budget covers natural resources and environment spending. That funding dipped below 1% of the budget in 2017. Source: White House Historical Tables © TNC