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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2004


Wilderness boosts Westís economy

Study confirms opinion of many in business

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 organizations.

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 services.

"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 http://www.sonoran.org/programs/prosperity.html.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.