Obama’s National Monuments Have Been An Economic Boon For Local Economies

CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS
CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS

The national monuments that President Obama has created or expanded are generating more than $156 million in local economic activity annually, according to a study published Wednesday.

The report, which was conducted by Colorado-based BBC Research and Consulting on behalf of an organization representing small businesses, looked at the economic activity of out-of-town visitors traveling at least 60 miles to their destinations. It found that the impact to the local workforce of such non-local visitor spending is equivalent to supporting 1,820 jobs.

“Too often, we only view land as valuable when it is being developed, mined, drilled or logged,” U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) said in a statement. “But, as this report shows, we can protect the most magnificent areas of our nation while also providing real opportunities for local economies.”

The analysis focused on 10 of the 22 monuments that President Obama has designated since taking office. These 10 include only monuments that protect natural or cultural resources — such as the San Gabriel Mountains in California or Basin and Range in Nevada, and don’t include monuments protecting historic resources.

The estimated economic benefits are likely to grow in the coming years because newly designated historical monuments are in the process of expanding visitor hours, and national monuments created to protect natural and cultural resources tend to grow in popularity after designation. And Obama’s monuments are already popular: between 2011 and 2015, according to the report, these monuments saw about 3.9 million visitors each year.

President Obama is the sixteenth president (including eight Republicans and seven other Democrats) to use the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate national monuments. His designations have preserved more acres of land and ocean from development than any of his predecessors. Wednesday’s report highlights how the presidential use of the Antiquities Act is not only a catalyst for conserving public lands, but also an economic driver.

“Protecting our nation’s natural assets is a smart move that boosts tourism dollars in these often rural areas, providing increased economic opportunities for entrepreneurs and their communities,” Rhett Buttle, president and managing director for Small Business Majority, said in a statement.  The sums reported Wednesday represent only a fraction of the economic boost communities near conserved public lands — including monuments, parks, and national forests — enjoy. Currently, the federal government does not track the comprehensive contributions of the outdoor industry to the U.S. economy, despite requests from the industry to do so. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that overall outdoor recreation in the U.S. generates upwards of $646 billion in consumer spending annually and 6.1 million jobs.

Mary Ellen Kustin is the director of policy for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @mekustin.