When evaluating the worth of our natural open spaces, we often think in subjective terms: beautiful, healthful, essential to our quality of life. But a sweeping new report gets down to brass tacks, demonstrating that open and working spaces are essential to our fiscal health too.

Healthy Lands & Healthy Economies,” produced by economists and conservationists in Sonoma, Santa Cruz, and Santa Clara counties, with contributions from many local experts including Sonoma Ecology Center, examines the economic value of natural places such as forests, wetlands, rivers, farms and parks and finds that land conservation provides a substantial return on investment to our communities.

That means your nearby open space – such as Montini Open Space Preserve, shown here after recent rains – puts money in your pocket just by being there.

As the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District puts it in an introduction to the report, “Although our working and natural lands have immeasurable intrinsic value, these open space lands also provide services that have real, quantifiable economic values – values that are often ignored by markets and can easily be taken for granted.”

Ag + Open Space goes on to explain that the collaborators – led by our county’s open space district as well as the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority – set out to quantify those economic values with real numbers. Their findings were clear: despite being taken for granted, so-called “natural capital” is a crucial provider of local goods and services (termed “ecosystem services”) that contribute billions of dollars per year to Sonoma County’s economy alone.

As we now know, keeping our economy humming isn’t just about injecting capital or building homes and infrastructure. It’s also about keeping our open spaces open.