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Lehigh Valley Return on Environment

This study calculates the economic value generated by open space in the Lehigh Valley. It finds that open space adds significant value to the regional economy with benefits accruing to businesses, governments and households--some benefits being direct revenue streams to individuals or governments, some representing asset appreciation and some accruing in the form of avoided costs.

Key Findings:

Natural System Services

  • The highest natural system services on a per acre basis is found in wetlands, riparian corridors and forests. Maintaining and restoring connected habitats and corridors will provide the full potential value of natural system services.
  • The current green infrastructure along streams in the Lehigh Valley reduces tax dollars by avoiding more than $110.3 million annually in expenditures for water supply ($45.0 million), disturbance ( flood) mitigation ($50.6 million) and water quality ($14.7 million).
  • Natural areas provide over $22.4 million annually in pollination and $2.5 million in biological control services to agriculture, backyards and the natural landscape.
  • Natural areas provide $219.5 million annually in habitat for insects, birds, animals and plants.
  • Natural areas provide $0.8 million annually in soil formation/retention

Air Quality

  • Air quality services provided by trees removing pollutants are esti-mated at $48.2 million annually.
  • Tree-covered open space stores 5,496,069 tons of carbon over the life of the current forest in the Lehigh Valley.
  • Without carbon storage by trees, damage due to increased carbon emissions would cost $111.2 million to mitigate in the Lehigh Valley, which, if divided by an assumed average tree life of 50 years, represents a value of about $2.2 million annually.
  • Photosynthesis by trees removes CO2 from the atmosphere, releases oxygen and adds or sequesters 181,189 tons of carbon each year, providing health and other benefits of about $3.6 million per year.

Outdoor Recreation

  • Approximately 75% of people in Pennsylvania enjoy some form of outdoor recreation on an annual basis as reported by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 2014 Outdoor Recreation Participation Survey of Pennsylvania Residents.
  • Physically active people typically enjoy a variety of health bene fits, including lower incidence of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, depression, certain cancers and obesity.
  • A growing body of evidence shows that contact with nature reduces stress, depression and blood pressure; increases concentration, creativity and learning; and connects people to their community. This helps reduce medical care costs and enhances productivity.
  • According to the D & L Trail 2012 User Survey and Economic Impact Analysis , an estimated 68,327 people spent about $2.5 million along the Lehigh Valley portion of the Delaware & Lehigh Trail.
  • The fastest growing outdoor recreation activities are kayaking, birding, wildlife watching, outdoor photography, running, bicycling and other sports. The popularity of these activities is replacing more traditional activities like hunting and fishing.
  • An estimated $795.7 million is spent on outdoor recreation each year in the Lehigh Valley. This represents the amount of money that residents in the Lehigh Valley spend on outdoor activities and their total impact on the economy.
  • Recreational activity on open space in the Lehigh Valley creates an estimated 9,678 jobs both inside and outside the Lehigh Valley. These jobs generate about $58.9 million in state and local taxes.
  • An estimated 25% of all tourism in the Lehigh Valley comes from recreation. This is the largest percentage in the state.

Property Value

  • The average premium afforded each home within ¼ mile of protected open space is $14,600 in the Lehigh Valley. Protected open space includes: 1) parks, natural areas and outdoor recreation sites that are owned by federal, state, county, municipal govern ments or conservancies or privately-owned property with a conservation easement, and 2) agricultural easements.
  • There are 127,850 single family homes located within a ¼ mile of protected open space in the Lehigh Valley.
  • The total real estate premium attributed to living within ¼ mile of protected open space in the Lehigh Valley is more than $1.8 billion (number of homes times average premium).
  • The average real estate premium for single family homes within ¼ mile of protected open space in the Lehigh Valley is lowest for homes located in rural townships ($2,600) and highest for homes located in cities and boroughs ($28,200).