The rural west has seen industries come and go, each with its own unique economic impact. We know the story: mining, trapping, logging, agriculture. Each of those industries also left a legacy that over a hundred years later, many of us are working to ameliorate. Enter the restoration economy: a new marketplace for resilient living.

Across the rural west today, many communities have experienced the same boom and bust cycles – from a booming resource extraction based economy to the loss of those resources or ways of life. Some have weathered the transition into tourism or recreation based economy; others are less fortunate. However, across the west, thousands of organizations and individuals are working to restore a resilient ecosystem that will provide for productive communities long into the future.

In North Central Washington, our communities have experienced these same ebbs and flows of industrial economies. Today, our vibrant agricultural community is built around tree fruit, hay and cattle production. Even at $600M annually[1], the agricultural economy cannot employ the entire working population, so other livelihoods have grown, particularly centered on seasonal recreation and tourism.

A more recent economy based on natural resource restoration has also rooted. Recent studies in Oregon, Washington and Idaho point to positive local benefits to resource restoration investments. For instance, the Oregon study found that every $1M invested resulted in 16-24 jobs. That same investment generated an additional 1.5-2.5 times more money circulating in those local communities. Said another way, every dollar invested in watershed or forest restoration generates another $1.50 – $2.50 in the local community. The Washington and Idaho analyses found similar results.

Much attention has been placed on the investments, or costs, to conduct watershed or forest restoration. Less emphasis has been placed on the returns on those investments. A growing body of literature in the Pacific Northwest is suggesting that the returns are positive, and in some cases generating the only local economic input in times of hardship.

[1] WSDA market value of crops from 2007 USDA census of crops. Found at http://agr.wa.gov/AgInWa/Crop_Maps.aspx.