Report: Obama monuments add $156 million annually to local economies

President Obama designated Basin and Range National Monument (Nevada) in 2015.

Credit: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.

A new report finds that 11 national monuments either created or expanded by President Obama contribute a total of $156 million per year to nearby economies.

The analysis, which was released by the advocacy group Small Business Majority on April 6, further strengthens the case that public lands are a boon to local communities.

The report evaluated 10 natural or cultural national monuments created or expanded by the president between 2012 and 2015 under the Antiquities Act, excluding “historical” monuments like Pullman National Monument in Illinois that typically face a steeper development curve before they offer full programming. Highlighting Colorado’s Browns Canyon National Monument, an outdoor recreation hub, and others, the study determined that these designations helped to preserve visitation in a way that offers unique opportunities for small businesses, which employ the majority of the nation’s leisure and hospitality workers.

The areas considered in the report draw about 3.9 million visitors annually, generating a “total annual economic impact” of $156.4 million and supporting 1,820 jobs.

Monument status could further strengthen economic value

While the new report shows that the places President Obama has protected offer significant economic returns, it also suggests that monument status could itself boost that value. Small Business Majority examined six monuments designated since the year 2000 and found that they experienced increased visitation in the years following designation.

A July 2014 study from Headwaters Economics found that the economies of communities adjacent to national monuments grew faster following monument designation than economies of comparable communities elsewhere.

Broad support from business owners and the public

Previous polling from Small Business Majority has found that small business owners appreciate the importance of protected public land to their bottom line. Research released by the group in April 2015 found that nearly two-thirds of small business owners “believe designating new national parks and monuments would enhance local jobs and the economy,” and 52 percent agree it would help their state attract and retain new businesses and entrepreneurs. Ninety percent believe public spaces that draw tourists can boost business for local restaurants, hotels, grocery stores and more.

Browns Canyon National Monument (Colorado). Credit: Mason Cummings.

More broadly, people who live in the vicinity of past and future monuments seem to recognize their value. A bipartisan poll released by Colorado College in January 2016 found that 80 percent of voters in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming support future presidents using the Antiquities Act to protect national monuments. Two prospective monuments enjoyed strong support in that poll: Most Arizonans (73%) and Utahns (66%) said they support new national monument designations in the greater Grand Canyon and Bears Ears regions, respectively.

Despite monumental value, Antiquities Act continuously under siege

The new findings come at a time when the Antiquities Act, the law President Obama has used to protect these national monuments, is under fire by a vocal group of anti-conservation members of Congress.

Since its approval by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the Antiquities Act has been used on a bipartisan basis by 16 presidents—eight Democrats and eight Republicans—to protect places of natural, cultural or historic importance, serving as an important contingency plan for when Congress is unable (or unwilling) to act.

Despite its use to protect everything from the Grand Canyon to Death Valley, and its bipartisan popularity, the Antiquities Act is a frequent target of anti-conservation politicians like Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).

We must stand up for the Antiquities Act to ensure that future generations will get to enjoy new national monuments, and so that communities across the country will continue to reap the benefits of these protections. Ask Congress to defend monuments today.