There’s lots of talk about the importance of healthy diet, exercise, and work-life balance to maintain well-being, but not much is said about the value of living close to protected lands. Researchers at the University of Oregon set out to determine just that, finding that living close to protected lands — national parks, nature reserves, wilderness areas — had a positive impact on health.
The research determined that those living near a protected area benefit from long-term conservation and that benefit increases when the nearby protected area is multi-use, meaning residents can access and take advantage of the area’s natural resources. Having access to a protected area is essential, as many people may rely on an area’s resources, only to lose access once the space becomes protected.
"The multiple-use areas are where you see a lot of the positive impacts for people's health and wealth," said Drew Gerkey, environmental anthropologist at Oregon State University and a co-author of the paper. "The boundaries are relaxed in a way that allows local people to access resources but doesn't impinge on the larger goal of conservation."
Additionally, protected areas with tourism components — like a national park — had 17 percent higher levels of wealth compared to similar households that were far from a protected area. According to reporting by Science Daily, “Many of the positive impacts of protected areas in this study were found in protected areas with established tourism.”
The study’s findings add to the ongoing conversation around the impact of protected areas on both nature conservation and nearby human populations.