Conservation dollars provide economic benefits while promoting environmental stewardship
Nearly $76 million annually is spent on conservation in Oklahoma, but it is worth much more in terms of both dollars generated and widespread positive effect, according to an Oklahoma State University study.
These dollars represent injections into regional economies across the state, thereby generating additional economic activity and helping to stabilize key industries vital to local communities, said Dave Shideler, OSU Cooperative Extension agricultural economist who conducted the study.
"The study is a tool for local conservation districts as they write grants and look for partners," he said. "As we work to protect the environment, it makes sense to do so in ways that provide sustainable economic effects that can be the pillars of community prosperity."
In fiscal year 2008, approximately $17 million was spent on conservation practices through project-based grants from state and federal programs. Project-based grants are those funds that are expended exclusively on the installation, construction and implementation of a conservation practice.
"An example of this would be a farmer who receives funds to purchase and establish permanent vegetative cover to prevent soil erosion, provide wildlife habitat or improve the nutrient content of the soil, all very important to environmental stewardship," said Robert W. Toole, director, Conservation Programs Division of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.
Equipment and supplies are needed to perform these practices, which the producer uses the grant money to purchase. Shideler's study shows that the $17 million from the project-based grants generated an additional $13.5 million of local economic activity throughout the state.
"Conservation practices relative to prescribed grazing and range planting consistently had the greatest economic multiplier effect of any practice across the state," Shideler said. "Each dollar spent on these practices created an additional 91 cents to $1.18 of economic activity."
Waste storage, which also includes funding for septic systems, was one of the top five funded practices across the state. Other highly funded practices included pasture and hay planting, sprinkler irrigation systems, fencing and no-till residue and tillage management.
The $76 million also included $39.2 million in direct payments to landowners in fiscal year 2008. Typically, these payments are reimbursements for lost income that happened as a result of implementing conservation practices.
"Examples of this would include the Conservation Reserve Program and Conservation Security Program reimbursing farmers for income lost due to leaving land fallow, as would similar payments for easements and riparian exclusion areas protecting stream banks," Toole said.
Shideler's research indicated that each dollar provided in direct payments generated 46 cents of additional economic activity. Thus, direct payments had a total economic impact of $57.2 million throughout the state.
The remainder of the nearly $76 million--$19.3 million--was spent on administrative costs for local conservation districts and Natural Resources Conservation Service field offices. Included in administrative expenses are wages and salaries--including some benefits, operational expenses, and overhead costs.
Toole hopes the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service study assists decision-makers at every level in recognizing how appropriated tax dollars for conservation programs are tax dollars that are being returned to and economically stimulating the local communities from which the tax dollars originally came.
"We all require food, so it's important our producers be able to grow crops and raise livestock in ways that promote environmental stewardship," he said. "Our water resources are valuable in so many ways, from drinking to recreation, to being a key part of production and manufacturing practices. Sustaining rural America and protecting the environment go hand-in-hand."
Anyone seeking additional information about the value provided by conservation programs should contact the Oklahoma Conservation Commission at 405-521-4818.