David Lewis

Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Resource Economics and Policy


Andrew Plantinga

Second Committee Member

Jonathan Rubin

Third Committee Member

Gary L. Hunt


Environmental issues frequently revolve around a perceived tradeoff between the economy and the environment. In the Northern Forest region, one of the most important environmental policy issues of recent years has been the ownership of vast stretches of undeveloped forestland. Specifically, the possibility of increasing public conservation ownership on these lands has emerged. Opponents of conservation lands often argue that employment will decline significantly when land is diverted from commodity-oriented uses such as forest products production. Proponents of conservation lands frequently cite the amenity benefits of conservation lands and the potential to diversify and stimulate the economy by designating more land into conservation uses. Empirical evidence is rarely offered from either side. To evaluate this issue, I estimate a model of simultaneous migration and employment growth using data on the 92 non-metropolitan counties comprising the Northern Forest region. Growth in migration and employment are measured over the period 1990 to 1997 and the set of exogenous variables includes the 1990 share of county land in public conservation uses. I find that net migration rates were systematically higher in counties with more conservation lands, but the effects are relatively small. Public conservation lands were found to have no systematic effects on employment growth over the 1990 to 1997 period. Two extensions are also considered. I examine the separate effects of preservationist and multiple-use lands. I also identify a “natural experiment” involving changing national forest management that allows me to estimate the effects of diverting private forestland to public conservation uses. My central conclusion is that existing National Forest lands have a positive, but small, effect on employment and migration in the Northern Forest region, while State Forest lands have a positive, but small, effect on migration. I also conclude that, over the range of my data, employment and migration are unlikely to be affected by timber harvest reductions resulting from the establishment of new conservation lands.