National monuments have a monumental impact on the U.S. economy

Business owners and lawmakers say new monuments are expected to promote economic growth in local communities through tourism and outdoor recreation.

Sequoia National Park, SteveD, flickr

National monuments not only protect America’s important wild and historic places, they protect its economy, too.

When President Barack Obama designated five new national monuments earlier this year amidst sequestration and fiscal uncertainty, he knew these designations would open the door for economic growth in America’s local communities.

“There’s no doubt that these monuments will serve as economic engines for the local communities through tourism and outdoor recreation—supporting economic growth and creating jobs," said then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

“There’s no doubt that these monuments will serve as economic engines for the local communities through tourism and outdoor recreation—supporting economic growth and creating jobs."

Photo: Bureau of Land Management lands in Washington State's San Juan Islands were among 2013's five new national monument designations, truk, flickr.

The trickle down effect

A study conducted in 2011 for the U.S. National Park Service reported a whopping $13 billion of direct spending by 279 million visitors to national parks, monuments and other sites within the national park system. Spending occurred in communities within 60 miles of a national park system unit and supported 252,000 jobs, most of which are in communities near National Park Service sites. All in all, visitor spending had a $30 billion impact on the entire U.S. economy.

According to findings, most visitor spending supports jobs in lodging, food and beverage service (63 percent) followed by recreation and entertainment (17 percent), other retail (11 percent), transportation and fuel (7 percent) and wholesale and manufacturing (2 percent). 

For example, at New Mexico's White Sands National Monument alone, 438,511 visitors spent $15.7 million in the local economy supporting 308 jobs in 2008.

Photo: White Sands National Monument, xoque, flickr

“We are incredibly lucky to have a national monument in our community. National monument designation for White Sands means an untold amount of free advertising for our community as outdoors enthusiasts come from all over to explore the dunes. These are people who eat at our restaurants, sleep in our hotels and help provide our small businesses with a solid foundation that will never go away," said local resident and small business owner Joyce Zimmer.

Further south, a 2012 study by Denver-based BBC Research and Consulting predicts New Mexico’s recently designated Rio Grande del Norte National Monument to nearly double the region's $17.2 million in annual revenue to more than $32 million and create some 300 new jobs for northern New Mexico.

Play hard, spend hard

As a direct result of Rio Grande del Norte’s prolific outdoor recreation opportunities, local rafting companies are hiring more staff and investing in more infrastructure in anticipation of more visitors.

There’s no denying it. As one of the main catalysts for spending in and around our national monuments, outdoor recreation is putting local economies to work.

Not convinced yet? Americans spend nearly as much on snow sports ($53 billion) as they do on internet access ($54 billion). They spend more on bicycling gear and trips ($81 billion) than they do on airplane tickets and fees ($51 billion). In total, outdoor recreation contributes $730 billion to the national economy annually.

These figures come from a recent report by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) that confirms Americans—140 million of them—are making outdoor recreation on public lands a priority in their lives.

Chart: Outdoor Industry Association

Cashing in on national monuments

The Antiquities Act gives the president the ability to help protect America’s treasures—and, from the looks of it, America’s economy.

But in recent years, a minority of anti-conservation lawmakers have tried to undermine the president’s ability to use the Antiquities Act. Numerous bills have been introduced to weaken the act. At The Wilderness Society, we believe such attacks are out of line with American conservation values.

National monuments will continue to generate jobs and support strong economies if public lands are initially invested in. Wilderness advocates for conservation funding so that America's wild lands can continue to be fully accessible and enjoyed.

Help us say thanks to President Obama for protecting five new national monuments!