Wilderness boosts Westís economy
Study confirms opinion of many in
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
The prosperity of rural Western
communities is directly tied to designated wilderness areas, national parks and
other protected public lands.
Thatís according to a report released this
week by the Sonoran Institute, an Arizona-based nonprofit conservation-oriented
organization established in 1990. But itís not news to local conservation
The Idaho Conservation League last spring
amassed signatures from 135 Idaho business owners who support wilderness
designation in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains of Central Idaho.
The Idaho business leaders commended the
efforts of Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, to see that some of the stateís most
special wild places stay as they are for future generations.
The Sonoran Instituteís report, Prosperity
in the 21st Century West, looked at federal economic statistics from 400 Western
counties and found that new businesses, investments and residents tend to locate
near public lands. The better protected the public lands are, the more they
contribute to the economic well being of local families and businesses.
"The Westís pristine open spaces are among
the regionís greatest economic assets," said economist Ray Rasker, author of the
study and director of the Sonoran Instituteís socioeconomic program.
"Communities near protected lands are beautiful places to live and work. And
with access to airports and an educated workforce, they have a huge competitive
advantage in the global economy."
According to the Sonoran Institute, the
reportís findings contradict the conventional criticism that wilderness
designations hurt rural Western communities by locking up natural resources that
can be mined, logged or drilled.
The report goes on to say that the Westís
traditional income sources, while important for economic diversity, have a minor
role in the Westís overall cash flow. Public lands attract and retain well
educated, dynamic residents who demand a growing range of job producing
"The quality of life offered by the
experience of wild lands attracts people who want to move to our community,"
said Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber &
Visitors Bureau. "It attracts tourism visitors, and it also attracts people who
appreciate it so much they decide to relocate their businesses here, which in
turn helps diversify our economy."
According to Eric Sorensen, Sonoran
Institute program director, the study goes beyond the growing cloud of
recreation and tourism industries.
"Rather, the report demonstrates that
public lands, especially lands managed for conservation, have higher
concentrations of jobs and other income sources. They draw people who want to
live and work in rural areas and act as a magnet to keep existing residents from
wanting to leave."
The study is available online at