There's a strong link between spending time outdoors, improved mental health, and quality of life.
22 Nov 2019
Researchers from Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, have put a value on it. By looking at how much people are likely to spend on their healthcare combined with statistics on national park visits, they were able to calculate a dollar value for a quality-adjusted life year, or QALY. One QALY equates to one year in good health.
The researchers concluded the economic impact of protected areas, like national parks, on people’s mental health is $6 trillion per year worldwide.
How improvement in quality of life (y-axis) compares to visits to protected outdoor areas per annum (x-axis). See chart below.
Their report is based on simple logic: "Nature exposure improves human mental health and well-being. Poor mental health imposes major costs on human economies. Therefore, parks have an additional economic value through the mental health of visitors."
Professor Ralf Buckley, International Chair in Ecotourism Research at Griffith University, explained. "Everyone spends money on their health, from Band-Aids to weeks in the hospital. Depending on the country, that money might be paid by the individual, a health insurer, or the government. But those costs still exist whether we pay them in cash, via health insurance premiums, or via taxes, and we can track the costs quite precisely."
Governments and health insurers use the $/QALY calculation all the time, according to Buckley. It’s a standard way to make decisions around healthcare spending priorities.
"Costs are easy to compare," he said. "But what about benefits? They need to know the value per person of the expected improvement in quality of life, multiplied by the number of people affected."
DO YOU COME HERE OFTEN?
The research team quizzed visitors to two Australian subtropical national parks, using the personal well-being index (PWI), which looks at seven criteria: standard of living, health, achieving in life, relationships, safety, community connectedness, and future security.
They compared visitors’ PWI scores with data on the general Australian population and estimates of how many people visit national parks each year.
From this, they determined that visiting a national park lifted people’s PWI by 2.2% on average. The conclusion is that there is a link between visits to areas such as national parks and improved mental health and well-being. When transposed onto the $/QALY sum, that translates to a "substantial but previously unrecognized economic value".
Just like healthcare costs, the value placed on a QALY varies from one country to another. But according to Buckley, it averages between $200,000 and $250,000.
"That might sound a lot," he says. "But imagine you were given a choice between dying right now or living another year in perfect health. How much would you pay? Looked at that way, it doesn’t seem such a big number at all."
There are, of course, limits to the amount of wealth and capital people have at their disposal, so the value of a QALY cannot rise non-stop; it's grounded in what people are actually able to pay for the healthcare services they need to improve their lives, rather than a notional value of what their time might be worth to them.
Efforts to put a monetary value on health and happiness are always likely to be challenging, due to the very personal nature of what makes any given individual feel rewarded, content and at their best.
Research from the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School recently highlighted a link between happy workers and higher productivity. A 13% increase in sales among BT staff was found to coincide with workers feeling happier, which may further demonstrate the economic impact of looking after employees’ well-being.
The Hill Country Land Trust wants to get the word out about its conservation easement program as development from the east encroaches on area counties.
The trust (HCLT) will marked its 20th anniversary with a “Conservation Celebration” on Saturday, Nov. 9 at the Gilbriar Gazebo. In those two decades, HCLT has worked in partnership with private landowners to protect agricultural land, waterways and wildlife habitat.
Those attending the event met Tiffany Osburn, an archeologist with the Texas Historical Commission who now steers the HCLT with its board, as well as bid on auction prizes and honor a longtime conservationist Bill Lindemann, former leader of the HCLT.
HCLT currently has 20 easements totaling 6,000 acres in their part of the Hill Country, but is working on a large easement that will increase its acreage by one third.
For landowner Nolan Sagebiel, the choice to put his land in a conservation easement was easy after witnessing the ranches along U.S. 281 become strip centers.
“We’ve seen everything get split up. I just wanted to make sure our land didn’t end up that way,” Sagebiel said.
He said while some family land was split up between he and his heirs, Nolan and brother Phillip wanted to keep their land near Enchanted Rock State Natural Area intact and free of rapid development, which can happen fast as witnessed by the U.S. 281 construction.
“There are five hotel companies that would love to put a resort in the view of Enchanted Rock or people who would build a subdivision there,” he said. “But my brother and I just decided it’s not going to happen on our land. None of us control everything forever, but you never know what your heirs are going to do.”
Sagebiel said the Hill Country Land Trust made the process easy.
“They answered all my questions, they weren’t pushy, we had several discussions — they didn’t try to pressure me to make a decision to go their way,” he said.
Sagebiel said while some families may need to make the financial decision to split up land, when entering the conservation easement program, the landowner makes the rules. “They decide what they want to see happen and what they don’t want to see done on their land,” he said.
Osburn said the process is gaining interest and HCLT has many easement projects in the discussion phases or in the process of becoming an easement.
Go to https://www.hillcountrylandtrust.org/ to learn more about what Hill Country Land Trust is doing.
The Comal County Conservation Alliance is urging you to send an email to your Comal County Commissioner and to County Judge Sherman Krause asking them to pursue purchasing some property that is now available in the northern part of Comal County. This purchase could be part of a regional effort to preserve and protect one of our county’s gems of a natural area—the former Boy Scout ranch known as El Rancho Cima, located along the portion of FM 32 known as the "Devil's Backbone." (See email addresses for Commissioners Court below.)
Hays County is closing soon on the purchase of one of the tracts available that is along the Blanco River. Their intent is aquifer and watershed protection, flood mitigation, conservation of wildlife habitat, and possible seasonal public access to the river and trails. Hays is using road mitigation funds for nearly half the purchase price and is planning to go to their voters in a 2020 bond election for the rest, along with additional funds to protect land in other precincts in their county.
Comal County could similarly benefit from the purchase of other tracts in the same property.
How could Comal County fund a purchase of this property?
While Comal County does not presently have a funding mechanism for land acquisition for conservation, there are options available to preserve a piece of this undisturbed Hill Country natural area. Surrounding counties have used combinations of many funding sources, partnering with trusts and other agencies to secure private, state, and federal grants, as well as low-interest loans and bonds. CCCA supports our local officials seeking a variety of options to find the best combination for Comal County.
Please write your Commissioner and Judge Krause.
Using your own words, please explain the urgent need for action to preserve this unique property in Comal County before it is sold to other interests. Let them know you would support their action.
County Judge Sherman Krause, email@example.com
Commissioner Donna Eccleston, Pct 1, firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Scott Haag, Pct 2, email@example.com
Commissioner Kevin Webb, Pct 3, firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Jen Crownover, Pct 4, email@example.com
Learn more here.
On October 24, 2019, Comal County Conservation Alliance (CCCA) and Greater Edwards Aquaifer Alliance (GEAA) cosponsored a Town Hall with State Representatives Kyle Biedermann (R-District 73) and Erin Zwiener (D-District 45), where they shared important information on Propositions 2, 5, and 8. These three propositions will be on the November ballot and both representatives support them.
Proposition 2: Authorizes the Texas Water Board to issue bonds for water and sewer projects in economically distressed areas.
Proposition 5: Ensures the existing sporting goods sales tax will go to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Historical Commission for protecting natural areas, water quality, and history.
Proposition 8: Creates funding for infrastructure for drainage, flood mitigation, and flood control projects, including “green infrastructure” projects, which use undeveloped land for flood mitigation.
If you'd like more information on Propositions 2, 5, and 8 go to https://ballotpedia.org/Texas_2019_ballot_measures.
Early voting has started. Information about this and other voting facts can be found on http://www.co.comal.tx.us/Elections.htm. These propositions are very important to Comal & Guadalupe counties. Please vote on November 5th.
On November 5, Texas voters will be asked to support or reject ten proposed amendments to the state constitution. All are important. All may test our collective understanding. I haven’t the space or the knowledge to deal with all ten propositions, but three are significant environmental issues that deserve comment.
Proposition 2: "The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $200 million to provide financial assistance for the development of certain projects in economically distressed areas."
It seems impossible, but in 2019 in the richest country in the world, in the state of Texas, one of the most prosperous states in the country, we have communities without safe water or safe sewage disposal systems. Such unsafe conditions exist, not because people in those communities don’t care, but because they lack the resources to correct those conditions. This amendment would create a state program to make grants to assist economically distressed areas for infrastructure projects to correct these unsafe conditions. Local recipients would match the grants and would be responsible for maintaining the infrastructure.
Proposition 5: "The constitutional amendment dedicating the revenue received from the existing state sales and use taxes that are imposed on sporting goods to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission to protect Texas' natural areas, water quality, and history by acquiring, managing, and improving state and local parks and historic sites while not increasing the rate of the state sales and use taxes."
State law already requires that sales tax receipts from sporting goods be used for state parks and the historic sites. Unfortunately, our legislators have found ways to not fully comply with that law. This would place the requirement into the constitution. Funds would be placed in a separate account that could only be used for the stated purposes.
Proposition 5 is a huge step in the right direction. It would ensure a healthy funding stream somewhat higher than the current budget. It would allow program managers to plan for maintenance and improvement projects with a higher degree of certainty that plans can be implemented. But the measure is probably not a panacea. Our parks currently have a huge backlog of deferred maintenance; and, as our population continues to grow, we will have a need for more parks. Even with this amendment, the legislature will still likely be faced with issues related to the needs of our parks.
Proposition 8: "The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the flood infrastructure fund to assist in the financing of drainage, flood mitigation, and flood control projects."
Whether it is related to hurricanes or torrential rains, Texas is prone to flooding. Some of that flooding could be mitigated or controlled with well-considered and managed projects. Projects might be constructed or they could be natural projects, conserving natural features that tend to mitigate flooding. This program would make loans—or perhaps grants—to local governments for such projects. Coordination among local governments would be required as would a repayment plan. The authors expect that much of this funding will be used to match federal programs, leveraging more dollars in total.
Funding is a one time transfer from the Economic Stabilization Fund (Rainy Day Fund). Repayments would allow future loans.
All ten of these propositions are important. Learn about them by going to Vote411.org and vote on Tuesday November 5.
Dear Friends in Conservation,
I’m happy to report a very successful 86th legislative session. First and foremost, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission received the full appropriation of Sporting Goods Sales Tax (SGST) used to maintain state and local parks. This is the sales tax collected on sporting goods, and is not a new tax.
In addition, Texans will have the opportunity to permanently dedicate this source of funding by voting in favor of a constitutional amendment on the November 2019 ballot.
As you may know, funding for state and local parks is currently subject to the appropriations process, which means a significant amount of the money is often withheld by the Legislature to certify the budget.
There are multiple reasons to support the constitutional amendment. Land in Texas is 96% privately owned, and state parks provide important public access to the outdoors. In many cases, state parks are the gateway to the outdoors for Texans.
We have almost 10 million visitors annually to state parks resulting in substantial wear and tear on infrastructure, particularly in the popular parks near urban areas. At the same time, state parks suffer from hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance exacerbated by nature disasters.
Developing a new state park is a multi-year process, which is almost impossible with an uncertain funding stream. And finally, dedication of these funds improves transparency in government spending.
John Shepperd, Texas Foundation for Conservation firstname.lastname@example.org or 210-823-8002