“The Nature-Based Restorative Economy in Santa Cruz County, Arizona” economic study, produced by the University of Arizona’s Extension Regional Economic Analysis Program, was released to the public on February 8.

George Frisvold PhD, the principal investigator, said “the study is the first of its kind to quantify the nature-based restorative economy (NBRE) in the county, defined as industries related to: (1) nature-based tourism, (2) the production of products derived from local, renewable natural resources, and (3) conservation, restoration, and preservation activities. It is an economic contribution analysis that measures the values of monetary transactions occurring in a regional economy attributable to the natural environment.”

This study used 2019 data, which the authors believed was more representative than pandemic impacted 2020 and 2021 data. It did not include produce imports and logistics in the definition of the nature based restorative economy because the produce was not sourced in Santa Cruz County. The total contribution of Santa Cruz County’s nature based restorative economy in 2019 was:

• $53.8 million in county GDP, 

• $121.7 million in sales 

• 1200 jobs and $41.2 million in labor income 

• $4.7 million in state and local tax revenues

These numbers include multiplier effects, economic activity generated when businesses within the nature based restorative economy purchase goods and services from local businesses as inputs and when people employed by nature based restorative economy businesses purchase goods and services locally. 

The key takeaways identified by the study’s authors, as stated in the two-page summary, include:

• Beyond border and international trade-related activities, the share of the County’s economy linked to the nature based restorative economy is considerable. Industries that are a part of, or closely linked to, the nature based restorative economy accounted for 30% of the net job gains in Santa Cruz County over the past ten years. 

• Santa Cruz County is part of a region known as the Sky Islands, characterized by a wide range of elevations, ecosystems, and rich biodiversity. It is also part of the newly established Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage area, one of 55 areas in the nation that are federally-recognized for their distinctive landscapes with rich natural, cultural, and recreation resources. This natural capital is a driver of the nature based restorative economy.

• The county is home to a number of state and national parks and other protected areas and is recognized as an area with high concentration of natural amenities and opportunities for outdoor recreation. Popular outdoor recreation opportunities in the county include wildlife viewing, birdwatching, camping, hiking, mountain biking, equestrian activities, and hunting.

• Several nature-based industries, or industries that derive renewable products from nature or process locally sourced renewable products into value-added goods, are considered part of the economic base in Santa Cruz County economy, including ranching and the growing wine industry.

• The county has a long history of conservation, restoration, and preservation activities, with much of this activity increasing in recent years. A strong community of organizations and volunteers support these efforts and work collaboratively to protect the county’s unique natural environment. 

Looking toward the future, the study suggests strong opportunities for growth in the areas like renewable energy, nature-based tourism, and wineries/wine tourism. There are also opportunities to leverage regional initiatives to preserve working ranch landscapes, promote outdoor recreation, ecotourism, and agrotourism, and increase public awareness of the benefits of restored ecosystems. In addition, future studies could consider the impacts of nature based restorative economy on property values, intrinsic value of recreation, value for future generations, human health and wellness, value of native species existence and health, value of ecosystem services providing fresh air, clean water etc.

The study was envisioned by a small planning group interested in establishing a definition of the nature based restorative economy and a baseline of its the impacts in Santa Cruz County. The group included individuals from the Town of Patagonia, Tucson Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, Sky Island Tourism Association, Borderlands Restoration Network, and Patagonia Area Resource Alliance. This group raised $48,000 from 21 individuals, organizations, and businesses. The Town of Patagonia administered the fund and held the contract with the University of Arizona. 

Chuck Klingenstein and Linda Shore were the leads for the planning group in the consultant selection process, the consultant scope of work, and ongoing communications with the Town and the University of Arizona team. 

Klingenstein commented how smoothly the process went and how satisfied the planning group was with the quality and rigor of the product. He said the information included in the study could be useful for local government planning and policy making, for private business development, for nonprofit fundraising, and for general information to the public. 

Shore added that the study not only has a wealth of excellent information but also identifies areas for further research that could give a more robust picture of value of the nature based restorative economy in Santa Cruz County going forward. 

In the near future, the Santa Cruz County Supervisors will host a public meeting for the University of Arizona to present its findings to the public. The entire study (157 pages) and two short summary documents are available on the University of Arizona’s website: https://economics.arizona. edu/nature-based-restorative-economy-santa-cruz-county-arizona