Natural Dividends: Wildland Protection and the Changing Economy of the Rocky Mountain West

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The western United States is known for its vast expanses of open space and remote wildlands, from broad prairies to sagebrush scrub, twisting canyons and rugged mountain peaks. Most of these wild landscapes are public lands, held in common ownership by all Americans-a status that has helped keep them wild in the face of considerable pressure to develop the natural resources found there.

With the economic diversification of the Rocky Mountain West over the past several decades, continued healthy economies in many of the region's communities depend on protecting natural resources rather than only on exploiting them. Resource extraction, such as the current boom in oil and gas drilling in the region, should only happen at the right pace and with appropriate safeguards to protect the West's wildlands, clean air and water, abundant wildlife and healthy communities.

This report provides a snapshot of the economic trends that have shaped the contemporary Rocky Mountain West (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming), and describes key economic indicators associated with the growth and diversification of rural Rocky Mountain economies. Understanding these key economic indicators is particularly important in light of the frenzy of oil and gas development that is currently threatening public wildlands and natural amenities in the Rockies, and hence the competitive economic advantage of the region.