Keeping the wildlands engine revving

There’s no doubt: America is going through some rough economic times. As calls mount for tightening the country’s financial belt, there’s much discussion from Capitol Hill to Main Street America regarding how to maximize the bang from our tax-collected buck. It’s times like this that make folks who care about public lands nervous.

All too often when the budget hatchet falls it hits key programs that help protect the places we love to visit and the wildlife for which we wait hours and hike miles to catch just a glimpse. But healthy wildlands and wildlife aren’t just niceties. They are local economic engines that not only provide valuable natural services (Like that clean air you are breathing? Thank a tree; better yet, a forest) but also create and support jobs across America . The economic impact from healthy public lands extends far beyond well-known National Parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite.

Case in point: state parks in Alabama alone generated millions in revenue and put dozens of people to work. And these funds didn’t just go to the state’s coffers. According to the Anniston Star, tourism to the state’s parks brought millions to local economies as well.

The national picture is even rosier- Active outdoor recreation supports 6.5 million jobs and generates roughly $730 billion in economic activity every year, according to estimates from the Outdoor Industry Alliance.

Outdoor recreation is a great local economic engine. And just like your car’s engine, our healthy public lands need to be maintained—especially in a warming world. Unlike your car, however, we can’t replace unmaintained lands with this year’s new model. With our public lands, the only substitute for degradation is doing the work necessary to restore it to health.

The good news is: investing in the health of our wildlands and wildlife is another great way to create jobs. These projects range from tackling invasive species to removing unwanted old logging roads to repairing fish culverts. American Jobs on American Lands can create a wide array of jobs for all sorts of skill sets (engineers, hydrologists, project managers, construction crews, and so on) in communities across the country. What’s more, projects that help keep nature stay resilient in a warming world (aka “climate adaptation” projects ) can generate more jobs per dollar invested than many other sectors of the economy.

Healthy wildlands are the backbone of America’s economy, and the key to our health and wellbeing. So while we look for ways to pinch federal government pennies, let’s remember that if we want to keep our nation’s economic engine running we need to keep our public lands resilient in the face of climate change. Doing so will protect our favorite places for tomorrow while protecting and creating jobs today.

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Photo courtesy John MacCarthy