The approximately 500 million acres of public lands and nearly 1 billion acres offshore managed by the Department of the Interior provide significant economic contributions to our country, according to a report released by the agency yesterday.
In total, our nation’s national parks, national monuments, wildlife refuges, and other lands created $371 billion and 2.3 million jobs to the U.S. in fiscal year 2012. These impacts come from the various uses of public lands and waters, including water supplies, renewable energy, oil, gas, coal, timber, grazing, and minerals.
But of particular note is the fact that last year’s nearly 417 million recreation visits to public lands and waters stimulated $45 billion in economic impacts along with 372,000 jobs. This number does not include the value of protecting places from development beyond recreation, such as clean air, clean water, and habitat. As Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said:
It’s difficult to quantify the value of protecting our nation’s hunting or ranching heritage, the benefits of healthy watersheds and air quality, or the power of ensuring our treasured landscapes and historic places will be accessible to the next generation. These actions have very real contributions to communities, citizens and property values and make us rich in ways that can’t be counted.
The fact that protecting places has many different economic values is often overlooked by policymakers in Washington, D.C. And yet, it has been emphasized in a number of other reports and by businesses who reap the benefits of such protections.
As just one example, economics consulting firm Headwaters Economics found that jobs in Western non-metropolitan counties that have more than 30 percent protected public lands increased by 345 percent over the last four decades, while counties with no protected lands saw jobs increase by only 83 percent. Additionally, the Outdoor Industry Association reports that the industry provides $646 billion in economic contributions every year. And Daren Norhagen, the president of software company Foundant Technologies in Bozeman, Montana put it this way:
We use the outdoors as a competitive advantage to attract and retain employees. And so the outdoors and access to public lands and preservation of public lands are really critical to our business.
Recent polling shows that people who live near public lands understand and feel these economic benefits. For example, 91 percent of voters in the West polled by the Colorado College State of the Rockies agreed that “our national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are an essential part of (my state’s) economy.”
And not only that, when it comes to picking and choosing between uses of public lands, voters are far more likely to support conservation over drilling. As polling from the Center for American Progress showed, two in three voters say that permanently protecting public lands for future generations and providing access for recreation are very important to them personally, while only about one-third say the same for making public lands available for oil and gas development.
Jessica Goad is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.