Despite Right-Wing Ignorance, National Monument Areas Show Strong Economic Growth

By Tom Kenworthy, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Proponents of restricting presidential authority to create national monuments on federal land tried hard today during a congressional hearing to make the case that such land protections inhibit economic growth, but they ran headlong into a comprehensive economic study that clearly shows otherwise.

Both Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on public lands, and Jerry Taylor, the mayor of Escalante, Utah, spoke in favor of a suite of bills that would limit or strip a presidential authority dating to the 1906 Antiquities Act. The act gives presidents sole authority to create national monuments and has been used by most presidents of both parties for more than a century.

Taylor asserted that the 1996 creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah was an economic bust, and Bishop said the same was true for the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument on the Utah-Arizona border:

I don’t see where the monument has brought in any jobs for our community.

Here are the facts, authoritatively reported in a new study by Headwaters Economics, an independent, nonpartisan research center in Bozeman, Montana that looked at the economic performance of areas around 17 national monuments in 11 western states:

Between its creation by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and 2008, the communities around the 1.8 million acre Grand Staircase saw their population grow by 8 percent — and had job growth of 38%. During the same time period, real personal income rose by 40% and real per capita income jumped 30%. Service jobs saw an increase of 59%.

In the Grand-Canyon-Parashant region, jobs grew by 44 percent between 2000 and 2008, ten percentage points higher than population growth. Real personal income was up 44 percent.

And it wasn’t just Utah communities that benefitted. Not one of the areas surrounding the 17 monuments created since 1982 and studied by Headwaters Economics suffered economically. In fact, according to Ray Rasker, the group’s executive director, “In all cases there was growth of employment, real personal income, and real per capita income after designation of the national monument.”


Supporters of the various bills to change the monument designation process, either by giving Congress the sole authority or by requiring the president to get state approval before creating new monuments, contend they are trying to protect local economies from assaults by presidents and “faceless bureaucrats” hell-bent on launching federal “land grabs.”

The goal of his Senate legislation and a companion House bill, said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) at today’s hearing, “is to protect jobs.”

But the real goal is clear: the only jobs Hatch — up for re-election next year — and the others like Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R-MT), also a candidate for Senate in 2012, are trying to protect are their own, by demagogic appeals to anti-Washington voters.