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Rural Communities

Natural Resources and Amenities

Broadly speaking, natural resources are those naturally occuring substances that are of value. When we refer to natural resources in Oregon, we generally mean arable farm land, forests and grasslands, fisheries, and water in all its forms (freshwater rivers and wetlands, and marine resources and estuaries). These natural resources are intimately tied with rural life. Most rural communities rely to some extent on natural resource use. Oregon's fertile soil and superlative trees provided the motivation for the first settlers to come here, and continued wise resource use is essential for continued rural community health.

Amenities, on the other hand, are things that contribute to one's physical or material comfort, or are features that increase the attractiveness or value of a place. The same natural resources that have provided our traditional economic base also provide our state with high levels of natural amenities - clean beaches, hunting and fishing opportunities, forests to hike in, the view of green farmlands, and clean rivers for recreating in. As the national population grows and spreads, communities with high levels of natural amenities are increasingly seen as desirable locations to visit, live in, or retire to. This more passive use of our natural resources - the beauty around the state that drives tourism and recreation - has become increasingly important economically.

Oregon's traditional natural resource use has been featured in many books, movies, and articles. More recent research has attempted to quantify and understand the role that amenities have played in economic growth and local well-being.

The Case of the Pacific Northwest: Recent Drivers of Economic Growth

Excerpted from: Wu, JunJie and Sanjiv Mishra. 2008. Natural Amenities, Human Capital, and Economic Growth: An Empirical Analysis. In JunJie Wu, Paul W. Barkley, and Bruce A. Weber (eds.), Frontiers in Resource and Rural Economics: Human-Nature, Rural-Urban Inter-dependencies (94-107). Washington DC: Resources for the Future.

Wind Energy and Farming

Wind Energy and Farming

"Economic growth, as measured bychanges in income, employment, and other economic indicators, is highly uneven across the United States. For example, from 1995 to 2001, the average median family income in the nonmetropolitan counties in the United States increased from $36,881 to $41,012 (in 2001 dollars) while the average median family income in the metropolitan counties increased from $48,166 to $54,657 (Economic Research Service 2006a). The increase in the metropolitan counties was 57 percent more than the increase in the nonmetropolitan counties. Other economic indicators also displayed large spatial variations across the United States. The unemployment and poverty rates in the nonmetropolitan counties were, respectively, 27 and 28 percent higher than in the metropolitan counties in 2001 (Economic Research Service 2006b).

"In addition to the large spatial variations, there also existed large temporal variations in economic growth in the United States. Most counties, except some located along the east and west coasts, experienced negative growth during the 1970s and 1980s. However, during the 1990s, both the trend and the spatial pattern were reversed. Most counties, except some located along the east and west coasts, experienced positive growth during the 1990s.

"Why do the spatial inequalities in economic growth exist? What drives economic growth? Understanding these issues is central to developing policies to promote economic growth in the distressed communities (Henderson et al. 2001)...

"This chapter presents an empirical study that evaluates the effect of natural amenities, accumulated human and physical capital, and economic geography on migration and the growth of employment and income in the Pacific Northwest. Thus region offers a good laboratory for studying the issue because many of its remote and rural counties are rich in natural amenities but poor in economic performance...

"Results show that the spatial distribution of human capital is a major factor affecting migration patterns and employment growth. Locations with more accumulated human capital attract firms and tend to have higher rates of growth in employment...

"Natural and social amenities also play a significant role in shaping the spatial patterns of migration and economic growth. Counties with superior natural amenities, larger shares of government expenditure on education, and higher homeownership rates attract migration...Rural counties tend to have lower income growth rates and higher out-migration rates than metropolitan counties. These findings add to the increasing volume of empirical evidence that natural amenities and human capital are major drivers of migration and economic growth.

"These results have implications for rural development policies. Most rural counties have lower levels of accumulated human and physical capital than do urban counties. However, many of them have higher levels of natural amenities. Public investments in infrastructure and human capital development would contribute to economic development in any place but will likely be more effective in rural areas with high natural amenities, especially when such investments enhance or improve access to natural amenities."

Explore on Your Own!

Is your area a 'resource dependent' community? What are the local trends in farming and forestry?

Launch the Oregon Communities Reporter Tool

Natural Resource-Related Terms

You can use the Oregon Communities Reporter and the Advanced Mapping Tool to explore natural resource use across the state with the following variables:

  • Number of Farms: The number of farms in a county. 1992 data used for 1990, 2002 data used for 2000.
    Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Census of Agriculture

  • Percentage of land in farms: The proportion of land in a county in farms. 1992 data used for 1990, 2002 data used for 2000.
    Formula: ([acres in farms]/[total acres in county])*100
    Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Census of Agriculture.
    Use the Advanced Mapping Tool to show percentage of land in farms by county, for 2000

  • All Crop Sales: Total gross farm sales, in thousands of dollars, for crops (including grains, hay and forage, grass and legume seeds, field crops, tree fruits and nuts, small fruits and berries, and vegetable crops).
    Source: Oregon Agricultural Information Network, Oregon State University Extension Service

  • All Animal Products Sales: Total gross farm sales, in thousands of dollars, for animal products (including cattle and calves, dairy products, eggs and poultry, and misc. animals).
    Source: Oregon Agricultural Information Network, Oregon State University Extension Service

  • Harvested Acres: The total number of harvested acres within the county.
    Source: Oregon Agricultural Information Network, Oregon State University Extension Service

  • Total Timber Harvest: The amount, in 1000s of board feet, harvested by each of the following groups: industry, other private, Native American, state public, Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, and other public agencies.
    Source: Oregon Department of Forestry

  • Natural Amenities Rank: The natural amenities scale is a national measure of the physical characteristics of a county area that enhance the location as a place to live. The scale was constructed by combining six measures of climate, typography, and water area that reflect environmental qualities most people prefer. These measures are warm winter, winter sun, temperate summer, low summer humidity, topographic variation, and water area. The natural amenities rank, reported here, ranks all US counties by thier scale value.
    Ranks run from 1-7; all Oregon values are 4, 5, or 6 (4 = average, 5 = moderate, and 6 = moderate high amenities).
    Source: Economic Research Service, USDA

Sources

Excerpted from: Wu, JunJie and Sanjiv Mishra. 2008. Natural Amenities, Human Capital, and Economic Growth: An Empirical Analysis. In JunJie Wu, Paul W. Barkley, and Bruce A. Weber (eds.), Frontiers in Resource and Rural Economics: Human-Nature, Rural-Urban Interdependencies (94-107). Washington DC: Resources for the Future.

Authored and compiled by Mindy Crandall, Faculty Research Assistant, Oregon State University Extension Service (2008)

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