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

Policy

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

The twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change present Americans with an extraordinary challenge. Across our lands, freshwaters and ocean, we are witnessing dramatic declines in species and resources that define the nation and the planet. Stopping and reversing this trend requires swift and robust investments.

America’s natural resources are an essential foundation for our economy and for the health and well-being of the American people. While only representing approximately 1 pecent of the federal budget, congressional investment in conservation programs bring big returns.

Federal conservation programs support the following:

  • Local communities and small businesses that depend on our 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 to 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 sustain thriving communities. Watersheds help store water and sustain clean water supplies.
  • Protecting and restoring natural coastal systems can reduce impacts to communities from coastal storms—often more cost-effectively than other infrastructure—and enable resilient communities.
  • Healthy natural systems support 21.7 million American jobs—17 million related to agriculture, 3 million related to forests, and 1.7 related to fisheries.
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 decline in funding as a percentage of overall spending. Even with the temporary boost of supplemental funding provided in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, levels still fall short of previous investments as a percentage of overall funding.

Congress took significant action on clean energy, conservation and climate resilience with its passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in 2021. It is imperative IIJA funds supplement robust regular appropriations. Federal agencies must continue to provide the technical assistance and program activities needed to act at the larger scale necessary to address the biodiversity and climate crises.

Nature-Based Solutions. Beyond improving roads, bridges and dams, we 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” help cities absorb stormwater. Restoring forests and investing in better agricultural practices upstream helps ensure sustainable water supplies downstream. 

Climate. Congress should continue to build on the progress made with IIJA by advancing policies and investments that will move the United States closer to its climate goals. These include tax incentives to support the development of both mature and emerging technologies needed to reach net zero emissions, enhanced tax credits for renewable energy development on former mine lands and brownfields, and investments in pollution-free energy and transit, including incentives for the purchase of cleaner vehicles. These efforts will advance U.S. progress on climate while at the same time bolstering local economies and creating healthier, more equitable communities.

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 our growing economy and population, and Americans are paying the price. Congress should ensure adequate funding for conservation and science programs at federal agencies, including important international programs we share 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
Tables
Federal spending Function 300 in the federal budget covers natural resources and environment spending. Even with the temporary boost of supplemental funding provided in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, levels still fall short of previous investments as a percentage of overall funding. Source: White House © TNC

Function 300 in the federal budget covers natural resources and environment spending. Even with the temporary boost of supplemental funding provided in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, levels still fall short of previous investments as a percentage of overall funding. Source: White House Historical Tables.