Red, White, Blue and Green: Wildlands and Economic Independence

An event partner demonstrates mountain bike skills at the "Tread Lightly Outdoors" expo, held on July 4 in Montrose, Colo.

Outdoor recreation is increasingly important on our wildlands. In the west, lands once tapped primarily for resource extraction are now attracting mountain bikers, equestrians, hikers, rafters, climbers and folks who just want to explore nature.

Does a shift in multiple use toward preservation and recreation mean lower economic potential for rural communities? Not at all, say several recent economic reports. In fact, preserving the natural values of wildlands and sustainable recreation brings big benefits to local economies.

In “Conserving Lands and Prosperity,” Southwick Associates found that “Rural counties with greater areas actively conserved for recreation, conservation plus lower impact commodity uses – including balanced levels of timber, mining and energy development – actually enjoy relatively higher income, population and employment growth. Counties dominated by conservation and recreation lands also have higher property values and high proportions of higher-income workers.”

And in Colorado, home to several of The Wilderness Society's focus areas, “protected federal lands such as national parks, monuments and wilderness areas are associated with higher rates of job growth,” according to a recent report from Headwaters Economics.

We see dramatic potential for responsible recreation and preserved lands in the Colorado Plateau to help struggling communities regain economic independence. And we’re actively working in our local communities to demonstrate just that.

In the Dolores River Basin, we joined with mountain bikers, flyfishing experts, a National Park, a Native American museum, boaters and others to celebrate July 4th with a “Tread Lightly Outdoors” expo. Free nature-based activities attracted residents and visitors, showing how natural values and recreation enrich our community. Elsewhere, we help others experience wildlands through river trips, or promote tourism to view dramatic wildlife displays.

Photo by Kate Graham
National Park staff discuss wildlife at July 4 Expo

While natural landscapes and sustainable recreation won’t answer all our economic questions, preserving wildlands is good for the soul – and for the pocketbook.

Learn more about our work on outdoor recreation policy or our conservation work in the Colorado Plateau.

Helpful links:

Our coalitions in the Dolores River Basin

Other helpful links