Monumental Lies: National Monuments, Wilderness Areas and Other Wild Landscapes Don’t Mean Economic Doom for Rural Areas

Monday, May 2, 2011

Locking up the land. Endangering our economy. Limiting jobs. That is what a few squeaky wheels would like you to believe are the impacts to our communities from national monuments and added protections for America’s great open spaces. That is simply false.  The True Grit is  there is plenty of evidence and stories to tell about the true benefits of monuments in and near our communities.

A wealth of peer-reviewed scientific studies confirm that claims of economic harm from protecting our public lands are not only wrong, but absolutely backwards – research shows that protected lands help our Western economies.

Communities like Taft and Santa Margarita California have actively sought official “gateway” status in order to take advantage of the Carrizo Plain National Monument:

“I believe our economy, and that of all the gateway communities, will experience real benefits from tourism to the Carrizo Plain National Monument”    — Ray Hatch, former mayor of Taft, member of the Monument Advisory Committee and Friends of the Carrizo Plain and retired from the petroleum industry.

Protected lands have the greatest influence on economic growth in rural isolated counties that lack easy access to larger markets.  Research by the Sonoran Institute found that between 1970 to 2000, real per capita income in isolated rural counties with protected land grew more than 60 percent faster than isolated counties without any protected lands.

The presence of wilderness and other wild lands draws residents and new economic activity that has a substantial positive impact on local economies.

Roadless areas in the lower 48 states provide almost $600 million in recreation benefits each year, and nearly 24,000 jobs.
Recreation alone on American wilderness lands is worth $574 million per year.
Other economists have estimated a “wilderness-related advantage,” finding that rural counties with wilderness or other protected federal lands experience greater economic and population growth than those without wilderness.

A Glance at the Numbers: The Active Outdoor Recreation Economy

  • According to Outdoor Industry Foundation, active recreation, such as hiking, hunting, camping, and rafting, contributes significantly to the U.S. economy.
  • Supports nearly 6.5 million jobs
  • Generates $88 billion in annual state and national tax revenue
  • Generates $289 billion annually in retail sales and services

Source: Outdoor Industry Foundation, Active Outdoor Recreation Economy Report, 2006.

A Few Questions to Ponder:

  • What motivates local businesses and residents to move to areas with protected public lands?
  • Can public lands provide a more stable contribution to a local community by supporting tourism and draw new long-term residents?
  • Don’t protected public lands fit into communities’ visions for quality of life by providing open space?
  • Isn’t it economically healthier to have a diverse mix of industries that includes mining and energy development as well as backcountry recreation and tourism?