Economists say parks boost business climate
By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole Daily
December 2, 2011
Protected public lands in parts of the West like Jackson Hole benefit the economy, a group of 104 economists and academics told President Obama on Wednesday.
In a letter, the group, which includes three Nobel Prize winners, urged the president to protect more public lands, saying that national parks, monuments and wilderness areas are beneficial to economies. Natural landscapes attract talented workers, entrepreneurs and investors to rural areas, the letter said.
“These public lands, including national parks, wilderness areas and national monuments, attract innovative companies and workers, and are an essential component of the region’s competitive advantage,” the signatories said in the letter.
“The rivers, lakes, canyons, and mountains found on public lands serve as a unique and compelling backdrop that has helped to transform the western economy from a dependence on resource extractive industries to growth from in-migration, tourism, and modern economy sectors such as finance, engineering, software development, insurance and health care,” the letter said.
The letter counters some political efforts to sell public lands to fund infrastructure and maintenance, three of the signatories said in a telephone news conference Wednesday.
“My biggest worry now is the discussion in Congress that we ought to sell off public lands to settle the debt,” said Walt Hecox, a professor of economics and environmental science at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo. “We need to protect it and maintain a diversity of economic activity.”
Like Teton County, places around national parks, national forests and wilderness areas are among the fastest growing in the country, said Gundars Rudzitis, a geography professor at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho.
“We can argue that some places and regions are important to people around the world,” he said. “The Amazon is one such place and the American West is another. What makes them special are the public lands.”
Federally protected lands are one of the West’s most significant competitive advantages, said Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics in Bozeman, Mont.
“Job creation is very important, and we think [protecting public lands] is one of the ways we can continue to do this,” he said. “In a modern economy ... a lot of businesses don’t need to be near a big city. They can move to places that have high quality of life. That translates into a massive movement of companies into areas that are surrounded by public lands.”
Rasker, Hecox and Rudzitis said they aren’t necessarily advocating for the President to use the American Antiquities Act to protect the lands. The three signatories also acknowledged that creating more national parks and monuments is a tough sell when the National Park Service is facing maintenance backlogs of hundreds of millions of dollars. But Rudzitis said the backlog is an opportunity to create jobs. He said he hopes “Republicans and Democrats would both see the value in bringing our parks back where they ought to be.”
Public lands, including Grand Teton National Park, the Gros Ventre Wilderness and the Teton Wilderness of the Bridger-Teton National Forest make up 97 percent of Teton County, considered one of the wealthiest in the nation. The Palisades Wilderness Study Area also is in Teton County, and conservation groups say it is a prime candidate for protection under the 1964 Wilderness Act.