David Brown of America Outdoors Association spoke about the importance of public lands for nature-based tourism.
West Virginia and the Appalachian region face increasing impacts from a shifting economy. In the midst of this transition, nature — one of West Virginia’s strongest assets—has the potential to be a key catalyst for economic growth. So in 2017, The Nature Conservancy held its second Nature and Economy Summit, focused on the role of nature in West Virginia’s economic future.
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Maximizing Environmental and Economic Benefits
More than 70 regional leaders and stakeholders from businesses, government, economic development authorities, academic institutions and nonprofits joined the Conservancy's summit.
“With collaborative planning and scientific innovation, we can work together to grow West Virginia’s economy in ways that maximize environmental and economic benefits,” says Beth Wheatley, the Conservancy’s director of external affairs in West Virginia. “Nature-based economic development activities offer opportunities for us to create new jobs and revenue streams in concert with conserving our lands and waters.”
New Jobs and Revenue Streams
The summit facilitated a collaborative dialogue to analyze the challenges and opportunities at hand. Prominent topics included the roles of forest products and carbon credits, outdoor recreation-based tourism and solar energy in growing and diversifying the economy, providing new jobs and creating new revenue streams for land and mineral owners. For instance, participants discussed the possibilities for promoting new jobs through solar development on the thousands of acres of post-mined lands in West Virginia.
“We are facing some real challenges in determining how we may restore and reuse mine lands,” says Ed Maguire, environmental advocate with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. “The Nature Conservancy brought together the right mix of leaders to begin to dig into these challenges and identify some potential actions.”
Tough Questions, Creative answers
West Virginia’s unique positioning in the eastern United States as a significant place for drinking water, carbon-rich forests and scenic natural beauty remained central to the conversation. Whether working together to enhance tourism through the conservation of recreational hotspots or pursuing ways to promote revenue streams through responsible forest management and carbon credits, participants thought creatively and openly about how to achieve a thriving future for West Virginia.
“As an economist, I know the questions posed during the summit—particularly those regarding the potential role of nature-based economic development activities in contributing to economic growth in West Virginia—are tough questions,” says John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University. “Yet questions like these need to be asked to prepare to seize new opportunities. I applaud The Nature Conservancy for having the courage to ask and summit participants for having the courage to begin to answer.”
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