By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
This week, progressive western thought leaders met in Las Vegas at the Project New West summit to debate what an equitable, diverse, and successful future of the West might look like. One of the biggest themes of the conversation was jobs — driving them to and keeping them in the region. Participants on panels discussed high-tech, green tech, renewable energy, and other quintessentially American jobs. Another important sector that was discussed and is critical to western growth is the conservation economy — recreation, tourism, restoration, and other mechanisms that protect landscapes while creating jobs.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) spoke to ThinkProgress Green about how important jobs in the conservation economy are to the West:
One of the big issues I’ve always thought about is how do you have a balance of lands in the West? So, how do we find ways to protect the remaining wilderness areas in our state and in our region, at the same time encouraging development of clean energy, appropriate development of natural gas, solar wind, all of that. And to me, that’s not only preserving our really special western way of life, it’s also developing our economy because it gives us ways to preserve wilderness areas for people to recreate, it gives us ways to develop our resources in a sustainable way. And what that will do is build our population in a responsible way and it will give good jobs.
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) agreed that the conservation economy is critical to his state and must be promoted:
It’s the fabric of who we are as a state, and why we can all embrace it. And look, this notion that there are people that say you can’t bring in business interests to be able to embrace conservation, that they can’t work together—it’s not true. If they can just come to New Mexico and take a look around—we can make it happen, we’re doing it there, and it should be a part of everything we are talking about from an economic perspective.
Both DeGette and Lujan are sponsoring bills in Congress that support jobs in the conservation economy, such as protecting new wilderness area and national conservation areas and attracting renewable energy development to their states.
An array of business leaders across the West are speaking out in favor of creating jobs by protecting lands, water, and air quality. ThinkProgress reported last week on the work of the Outdoor Industry Association to convince Utah leaders that jobs in recreation are critical to the state’s economy. Businesses in Colorado and New Mexico seem to agree. For example, the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce recently pointed out the economic benefits of national monuments to the state. And Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, used part of the time on a panel at Project New West to describe his company’s efforts to raise money for restoration of national forests, which the company’s website calls “an essential investment.”
Because land conservation not only supports public health via clean air and clean water but creates jobs, recent attacks on the environment by Republicans (such as efforts to mine for uranium around the Grand Canyon and dozens of riders on an appropriations bill) are attacks on jobs and on the western way of life. As a recent report from CAP determined, hundreds of thousands of outfitters, guides, construction workers, engineers, and other residents of the West and across the nation depend on protected public lands to economically thrive.