International case studies of protected area performance increasingly report that conservation and socio-economic outcomes are interdependent. Effective conservation requires support and cooperation from local governments and communities, which in turn requires that protected areas contribute to the economic well-being of the communities in which they are sited. Despite increasing recognition of their importance, robust studies that document the socio-economic impacts of protected areas are rare, especially in the developed world context. We proposed 3 potential pathways through which protected areas might benefit local communities in the developed world: the improved local housing value, local business stimulus, and increased local funding pathways. We examined these pathways by undertaking a statistical longitudinal analysis of 110 regional and rural communities covering an area of approximately 600,000 km(2) in southeastern Australia. We compared trends in 10 socio-economic indicators describing employment, income, housing, business development and local government revenue from 2000 to 2010. New protected areas acquisitions led to an increased number of new dwelling approvals and associated developer contributions, increased local business numbers, and increased local government revenue from user-pays services and grants. Longer-term effects of established protected areas included increased local council revenue from a variety of sources. Our findings provide support for each of our 3 proposed benefit pathways and contribute new insights into the cycling of benefits from protected areas through the economy over time. The business and legislative models in our study are typical of those operating in many other developed countries; thus, the benefit pathways reported in our study are likely to be generalizable. By identifying and communicating socio-economic benefits from terrestrial protected areas in a developed world context, our findings represent an important step in securing local support and ongoing high-level protection for key components of the world's biodiversity.
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