Review of Stynes' “Economic Benefits to Local communities from National Park visitation and Payroll, 2010.”  Review by Matthew Rousu and Kyle DeShong.

This study attempts to estimate the economic impact on local areas of all the National Parks in the National Park Service for the year 2010.  This model starts by using the NPS statistics for recreation visits and overnight stays at the park. These numbers are then split into specific visitor segments.  Once these numbers are established, they are multiplied by average spending per party.  Finally, the resulting number is multiplied by the appropriate local multiplier for each park was established by the IMPLAN group.  The study determined that the National Park System had an economic impact of over $25 billion (almost $10 billion in labor income and $16.6 billion in indirect effects).

This is the single worst economic impact study we’ve read.  The authors confuse local and national impacts, make misleading statements, and use faulty methods.  Some examples of the blatant and horrendous errors made in this paper:

·       The authors took local economic impact studies that were done on individual national parks, take the economic impacts estimated in those studies, and sum them to estimate the national impact.  This, unfortunately, isn’t correct.  Each local impact is only valid for the local area – not for the country as a whole.  In fact, most individual national park likely has almost zero economic impact for the USA as a whole.  This is because most people would have chosen to go somewhere else within the country if that park didn’t exist.

·       For an example of why this doesn’t work.  Suppose a family 60 miles away decides to either go to a National Park or go to a local amusement park for the day.  Either way they plan on spending a similar amount of money.  If they choose to go to the park, the park cannot claim any credit for this family increasing the economic activity of the nation.  The local area around the park could claim increased economic activity.  However, there will be an equivalent loss of economic activity in the local area that has the amusement park. 

o   This aggregation of local impacts across the country and trying to claim this is the overall economic impact of the nation is such a horrendous and obvious error; it really should cause any reader to question every assumption and data point used in the rest of the paper, including the estimates for each given park. 

·       Stynes also mentions: “Parks also impact the … national econom(y) through the NPS payroll.” (Page v).  This isn’t really true either.  Tax revenue has to be taken to pay the NPS employees.  That decrease in money that US citizens have to spend will cause a decrease in economic activity equivalent to any gains received by workers. 

 

When graded on our “best practices,” list- how does this study do?

Things that are done well:

3.) This study estimates the economic impact of each park based on whether or not the park exists.  If one instead wanted the impact of a lower-quality park, or a privately owned park, this study’s estimates would not be appropriate.

4.) Expenditures were only counted once.

5) This study was claimed to have “received formal peer review by subject-matter experts who were not directly involved”.  They didn’t list their names, however, nor do we know if those individuals or an knowledgeable editor had veto power.  Given the horrendous quality of this report, it is stunning to us that there were peer reviewers. 

6.) The methods used to reach the conclusions are explained thoroughly. 

8.) The study clearly denotes that it is funded by the National Park Service.  If there is a bias or incorrect methods (which we find), we would expect them to be biased upward (which we find). 

Things that are not done well:

1.) The study states both a monetary impact as well as a jobs impact.

2.) While reading the study, it is not clear how exactly the local regions are measured for the parks. 

Comments

As mentioned above, this is the worst economic impact report we’ve read to this point (on any topic).  The authors create an estimate for the economic impact on the national economy using completely flawed methods. We have zero confidence in this study.