Natural Economies: a success story

To respond to the need for better information about the value of the region’s natural resources and reasons to protect them, Common Waters organized a workshop in May of 2013 in Matamoras, PA on “Natural Economies.” Economic development is often equated with physical growth of cities and towns or other types of natural resource extraction. Because healthy natural resources form the base of the region’s rural economy and character but residents still need jobs and income, Common Waters began a discussion about how to strengthen the local economy without depleting or destroying these resources. The one-day conference was sponsored by the Regional Plan Association and America 2050, the USDA Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program, and the National Park Service Northeast Area.

About 100 participants representing government, environmental interest groups, regional businesses, and private citizens attended the day-long program. Speakers shared examples of tools that can assist leaders in decision making for their communities and help understand the value of planning and coordination with sensitivity to their region’s natural assets.

Gerald J. Kauffman, PE, Director of the University of Delaware’s Water Resources Agency, shared his study that estimates the River provides 600,000 jobs and the Basin’s resources provide billions of dollars’ worth of ecosystem services, such as drinking water filtration, and argued that these values are not well incorporated into the way we do business. Kendra Briechle of The Conservation Fund’s Conservation Leadership Network discussed how “gateway communities” — communities near public lands or other protected areas — can take advantage of their natural assets while protecting them at the same time. Participants brainstormed to develop specific ideas ready for action. Among the top ideas that issued from the workshop are the development of a unified regional trails program, the creation of multi-day festivals to encourage overnight stays, and improving access to the River.

Next steps include sending a team to The Conservation Fund’s Conservation Leadership Network training, titled “Balancing Nature and Commerce in Rural Communities and Landscapes;” investigating funding sources to develop projects; and identifying lead partners and communities that are ready to spearhead work going forward.

Please click here to access our Natural Economies Final Summary.