By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Today over 100 economists from top universities, economic firms, counties, and other groups sent a letter to President Obama urging him to protect more national parks, national monuments, and wilderness areas. The signatories make the case that because the western United States is shifting from a resource extraction-based economy to one founded in tourism and the migration of Americans wanting to live close to wide open spaces, protected places are valuable economically.
As the letter stated, “protected public lands are significant contributors to economic growth.” Ray Rasker, the executive director of Headwaters Economics, who holds a Ph.D from Oregon State University, further explained that:
In the last 40 years, the fastest growth in the West has been in communities that are adjacent to protected public lands. It’s one of the West’s competitive advantages, it’s one of the strengths of the West, and investing in these sorts of public lands—the wilderness areas, the national monuments, the national parks—is a way to protect the competitive advantage of the west. This is what is creating jobs currently, and at a time when we have high unemployment, we need policies that create jobs.
There is a wide variety of jobs created from protecting public lands, many of which are detailed in the Center for American Progress’ recent report, “The Jobs Case for Conservation.” These include outdoor guides, construction workers restoring trails and forests, manufacturers of outdoor goods like skis and hunting equipment, engineers, and park rangers, to name just a few. The Outdoor Industry Association notes that the outdoor recreation industry supports 6.5 million jobs and $730 billion in economic growth every year.
ThinkProgress recently reported that a handful of House Republicans, such as Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), have denied that protecting the West’s special places has positive economic impacts. At a hearing last month, Bishop stated, “Contrary to claims by the administration and others, the designation of national monuments and wilderness are not a boon to local economies, but rather a detriment in most scenarios.”
Additionally, members of the Congressional Western Caucus — a group made up entirely of Republicans — labeled the designation of national monuments and wilderness expansion as “job-killing” policies in a report last year.