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Total Economic Valuation of the National Park Service Lands and Programs: Results of a Survey of the American Public

Michelle Haefele, John Loomis and Linda J. Bilmes
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Michelle Haefele: Colorado State University
Linda J. Bilmes: Harvard University

Working Paper Series from Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government

Abstract: This paper presents the first-ever comprehensive estimate of the total economic value of the National Parks Service. The estimate covers administered lands, waters, and historic sites as well as NPS programs, which include protection of natural landmarks and historic sites, partnerships with local communities, recreational activities and educational programs. Our estimate of the total economic value to the American public is $92 billion. Two-thirds of this total ($62 billion) is for National Park lands, waters and historic sites; the remaining $30 billion is attributed to NPS Programs. The estimate, which is based on very conservative assumptions, includes not only the value attributed by visitors to the parks, but also a significant "non-use" or "existence" value. This is the value derived by the public from simply knowing that NPS assets are protected for current and future generations, regardless of whether or not they actually choose to visit. Our results are derived from a survey of a sample of U.S. households conducted for this study. Participants were asked whether they would be willing to pay specific amounts in increased annual federal income taxes over a ten-year period in order to retain the current National Parks and NPS Programs. This methodology is consistent with the techniques employed by numerous Federal agencies for economic valuation. The results reflect rational economic behavior--the higher the dollar amount in increased taxation, the less likely respondents were to pay. This indicates respondents were paying close attention to the payment amounts and gives us high confidence in our economic valuation. Overall, nearly 95% of responding households indicated that protecting National Parks, including historic sites, for current and future generations was important to them. This was largely independent of visitation; 85% of respondents felt that they personally benefitted from National Parks, regardless of whether they visited the parks or not. This paper describes our methodology in detail, including survey development techniques and implementation, as well as our statistical analysis. The paper also considers the policy implications of this first-ever analysis of NPS value. The study was conducted independently of the National Park Service. The research was funded through the generosity of the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the Turner Foundation, Cody J. Smith of the Summit Foundation, the National Park Foundation.

Date: 2016-06
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Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:16-024