Wilderness Economics: Dispelling Myths and Taking Action

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Wilderness Economics: Dispelling Myths and Taking Action

“These efforts to sell off public land to support the economy have it backward. Our lands are not only vital for hunting, fishing, camping and hiking, they are critical to the [nation’s] recreation economy that generates a trillion dollars every year.  We can support our economy by protecting our public wild lands, not selling them off.” The Wilderness Society

There is abundant evidence of the economic value of wilderness, yet our roadless areas remain under siege by a number of entities. The Outdoor Industry Association reports that active outdoor recreation contributes over $10 billion each year to Colorado’s economy, supports 107,000 Colorado jobs, generates nearly $500 million in state tax revenue each year, and produces $7.6 billion (4% of gross state product) annually in sales and services in our state.

The economic benefits of wilderness is a central theme in Senator Mark Udall’s Central Mountains wilderness proposal. He argues that, by protecting roadless areas in Eagle, Pitkin and Summit Counties, this “legislation could help promote the region as a world-class destination for outdoor recreation.” His proposed legislation would expand wilderness areas such as Holy Cross, Eagle’s Nest and the iconic Maroon Bells.

After introducing his wilderness package last February, Senator Udall reminded his audience that “the outdoors is an important part of our quality of life here in Colorado. For many outfitters and small business owners, the preservation of our state’s majestic mountains and valleys is vital for their livelihoods.” He then called for ‘a collaborative community-driven process.” County and city officials expressed support for the plan. “Future generations will … judge our wisdom by the places we protect,” said Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney. Rep. Diana DeGette announced her suport as well: “Coloradan’s want to preserve their quality of life and their opportunities. With efforts in the U.S. House  and now the U.S. Senate, our state’s precious lands are that much closer to being protected. I look forward to working with Senator Udall to set forth a balanced approach to protecting some of the last remaining wild places in Colorado.”

In “The Economic Benefits of Wilderness,” a paper published by the Wilderness Society, a total economic valuation framework is used to guide a comprehensive economic analysis from a societal perspective (as opposed to a more limited financial analysis which only examines costs and benefits as measured by market price). It describes a broad network of benefits in the areas of direct use, community, scientific, off-site, biodiversity conservation, ecological services and passive-use. Their conclusion runs counter to wilderness opponents’ frequently heard argument, that wilderness locks up resources and is bad for the economy. Indeed, wilderness is a natural resource with multiple benefits to current and future generations.

Senator Udall wants to hear from you! Please visit Senator Udall’s site at www.tinyurl.com/udallheritage to leave a comment and tell the Senator why YOU think wilderness is so important to our economy, our wildlife and our state’s future.

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