Boise voters bought equity with their decisive 2001 foothills levy that generated $10 million to conserve open space.
The money leveraged federal Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars along with private donations to protect 10,505 acres in the last decade. A new study suggests they bought even more.
The Boise Foothils generated $12 million in ecosystem services, direct use, health and what author Niall Garrahan calls social capital in 2011 alone. Garrahan, a junior at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, measured other statistics gathered by The Trust for Public Land, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Western Governors' Association, Outdoor Industry Association, Earth Economics, user surveys and other sources.
The study offers a unique way of looking at the value of protecting open space in the tradition of economists like Ray Rasker at Headwaters Economics in Bozeman, Mont. You might remember a study it did last year about the value of national parks and other federally protected lands to the economy of the West.
Garrahan’s study, Open Land Utility: A Study of Conservation, Ecosystem Services, and Recreation in Boise, Idaho, shows open space doesn’t have to be federally protected to add value.
And he really didn't include the economic value the Boise Foothills provides by attracting businesses, residents and visitors to Boise. How much does Boise get for having those wide open scenic hills as the backdrop to a nationally televised Boise State Broncos game?
Home-grown conservation areas like the Boise Foothills arguably offer even more value than distant parks because of their place in the lives of hundreds of thousands of residents as well as visitors. We only have to walk to our back yards to enjoy this treasure that we valued enough we raised our taxes to conserve.
Here are a few interesting statistics Garrahan compiled:
• Trail use in 2011 was valued at $2,235,708.
• Strenuous activity by hikers, mountain bikers and runners in 2011 saved an estimated value of $390,312 in medical costs.
• The value of volunteer hours and financial contributions to the Ridge to Rivers trail system and Foothills Learning Center, the "social capital," was $59,740 in 2011.