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More than a Pretty View for rural America

Posted by Mike Illenberg, U.S. Forest Service in Forestry
Apr 15, 2016
Buildings nestled into a forest
America’s national forests and grasslands are part of the strategy to tackle some of our lagging rural economies. Photo credit: Doug Berry,

This may sound like a cliché, but our job at the U.S. Forest Service is to do something every day to make your life better. And we mean it.

Our work safeguards clean air, clean water, and beautiful, resilient and productive forests and grasslands. These effects of healthy national forests and grasslands are nowhere more felt than in rural communities where wildlands play a huge role in generating economic activity.

According to the most recent data, rural America is recovering from the depths of the Great recession. Employment has increased, child poverty rates have declined and the rate of rural population decline did not increase over the past year. Some rural counties even saw population growth.

These trends are promising but, at more than 18 percent, the 2014 rural poverty rate still exceeded the urban poverty rate by 3 percent. This is why our national forests and grasslands are part of the strategy (PDF, 2.0 MB) to improve lagging rural economies. Headwaters Economics, an independent non-profit environmental organization, also recently reported that from 1970-2014, western rural counties with the highest share of federal lands on average had faster population, employment, personal income, and per capita income growth than their peers with the lowest share of federal lands.

Many rural economies depend on national forests and grasslands to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life for residents living near them. The lands we manage attract nearly 146 million visits per year, mostly for recreational purposes.

In 2011, Forest Service programs and activities across the nation supported nearly 450,000 jobs and $36 billion of gross domestic product. More than 68 percent of this economic activity is associated with direct use of national forest lands and resources.

This value includes the business activity supported by recreation spending attributed to skiing, hiking, hunting, fishing, and other forms of outdoor recreation, and the income generated from the use of national forest lands for livestock grazing, forest products, and mineral and energy development.

People, and the communities they live in, depend on these benefits for their livelihoods and well-being. While Federal lands provide and will continue to provide natural resources for commodity sectors, they also help build our rural economies by offering recreational opportunities, natural amenities and scenic backgrounds that stimulate migration—drawing entrepreneurs and attracting a skilled workforce across a range of fast growing industries.

They might seem like they are just pretty places to visit, but forests and grasslands are working to make your life better.

Category/Topic: Forestry