Subscribe for 17¢ / day

CHEYENNE — Habitat restoration projects funded by an independent state agency have created more than 500 jobs a year and about $21 million in worker income in the state since 2006, according to an economic analysis.

The Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust was created in 2005 by the Legislature to fund projects that enhance and conserve wildlife habitat and natural resources, such as creating wetlands, battling invasive species and preserving open space. It has allocated more than $35 million to more than 320 projects.

The lead author of the study, David T. Taylor, said he was surprised by the number of the jobs and income it created.

"Basically for an investment of about $34,000, you're creating about 12 months' worth of employment," Taylor said. "Compared to other job generation type activities, that's not a lot of money really."

In addition, most of the money spent on the projects stayed in Wyoming, especially helping rural areas where a few jobs can make a big difference economically, he said.

He said most of the jobs created were construction related and temporary.

The analysis by the University of Wyoming's Ruckelshaus Institute and The Trust for Public Land looked at the economic value of the natural goods and services resulting from conservation easements the trust fund helped purchase. Conservation easements are voluntary agreements between landowners and land trust or other parties that primarily protect wildlife habitat and open space.

The analysis estimated the value such easements had on livestock grazing, agriculture production, recreation and other endeavors that benefit from open space protected from development.

It found that every dollar invested in conservation easements returned $4 in economic value. For every dollar spent by the trust, it is matched on average by $5 or more in contributions from other sources, the study estimated.

The trust money, combined with the matching contributions, amounted to a total of about $200 million.

The 4-to-1 return is "a really good rate of return compared to other studies that TPL has conducted across the country," said Jessica Sargent-Michaud, director of conservation economics with The Trust for Public Land's Boston office. "It's actually a very high rate of return for a very new program."

She attributed the high return rate to the contributions from entities other than the trust, which means the state doesn't have to spend as much purchasing conservation easements. She also cited the trust board's wise selection of land to protect with easements.

The nine-member citizen board is appointed by the governor, and the trust is funded by interest earned on a permanent account, donations and legislative appropriation. Money from the trust is combined with other sources, such as federal grants and private organizations, to help pay for the projects.

More than 200 separate entities have contributed money.