By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress
Today, during Great Outdoors America Week, the Center for American Progress released “The Jobs Case for Conservation: Creating Opportunity Through Stewardship of America’s Public Lands,” at an event with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to highlight the enormous economic value of conservation on public lands. The report recommends that any super committee negotiations protect this sector of the economy. This specific economy creates jobs in recreation, restoration, and renewable energy development, that cannot be outsourced and are frequently located in rural America, an area hardest hit by the Great Recession and still struggling with unemployment higher than the national average. In this report we identify 15 policies that have created or will create jobs by supporting conservation and restoration, including:
— Fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund
— Maintaining a strong budget for the National Park Service, in advance of the 2016 centennial celebration
— Guiding responsible renewable energy development on public lands
— Supporting and expanding the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program
— Reauthorizing stewardship contracting authority
One of the biggest and best-studied categories of jobs linked to conservation of public lands is in recreation and tourism. Sightseers and outdoor enthusiasts, who spend significant amounts of money during their travels, help create jobs and stimulate local economies, which are frequently rural gateways to destinations like national parks. Federal public lands, managed by the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service, see a combined average of 591 million visits per year.
Additional jobs can be found in renewable energy development, which is just beginning to take place on many federal lands across the West and in forests across the country as we move toward a clean energy economy and energy independence. If solar, wind, and geothermal energy can be harnessed on public lands with sound environmental practices, renewable energy can be compatible with land conservation. From manufacturing parts to installing projects in the ground, renewable energy has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Finally, restoration and sustainable management of forests and watersheds can also create jobs because they are hugely labor intensive. This type of employment is particularly important to rural communities, which have traditionally been dependent on the timber and forest products industry. Sustainable management of lands — such as combining timber harvesting and restoration objectives into one large project — can ensure rural communities stay resilient.
It is important to resist attacks on policies identified in this report, in order to boost job creation while protecting public health from policies that would jeopardize the quality of our air and water. Political leaders should support and promote the policies to stimulate a conservation economy that will put rural America back to work and safeguard the pristine places that Americans across the nation enjoy.