Southern Utah Wilderness and Our Economy

Proposals to extend wilderness protection to significant additional lands in Utah are regularly criticized on economic grounds. This economic conclusion is based upon two assumptions: wilderness locks up natural resources and the primary reason for wilderness is to provide free recreational opportunities.

The primary economic activities that would be restricted by wilderness classification is commercial extraction of timber and minerals. In southern Utah, it is primarily mineral extraction that would be restricted. In addition, there are fears that grazing would be restricted. the assumed negative impact of wilderness designation is tied to the "locking up" of those minerals and forage. When mining and grazing are analyzed in the context of the overall Utah economy, this is seen to be a seriously exaggerated claim. The transformation of the Utah economy from heavy reliance upon extractive natural resource use is well underway and it will continue. The Utah Office of Planning and Budget projects that employment in agriculture and mineral extraction will continue to shrink as a percentage of the total Utah workforce over the next twenty years despite an optimistic projected "mini-boom" in the mineral extraction industries.

Protected landscapes have economic impacts far beyond their borders because they provide the high quality environmental backdrop that makes an area an attractive place to live, work, and do business. In that sense, the protected landscapes become an important part of an area's economic base and economic vitality. This is the reason that wilderness counties tend to show such dramatic economic vitality.

Wilderness protection does not impoverish communities by locking up resources. Rather, it protects the economic future of those communities by preserving high quality natural environments that are in increasing demand across the nation.


John West said...

Environmentalists really don't ever take into consideration what happens to economies in such intances as closing, previously open, wilderness to the public. Yet, they [environmentalists] are needed. If it weren't for them, can you imagine our world? There needs to be a medium in which both sides, left and right, can agree on.

Max said...
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Bruce Banner said...

There needs to be a balance. "Locking up" can hurt the economy but destroying the wilderness can also. I dont have a problem about logging or mining but those who do the work needs to make sure they leave it as they found it as much as possible. For an example for logging--replant what was taken.

I do not like environmentalist but I also do not like people who destroy the wilderness. Use common sense!

Max said...

I am a little skeptical of the economic benefits cited in the article which was intended to muster support for the “America’s Redrock Wilderness Act” introduced in 1993 by Representative Maurice Hinchey of New York. The Act would designate an additional 5.7 million acres of Utah’s land as Wilderness. The article said, “There is no significant economic opportunity cost associated with wilderness protection.” I guess that is true if you live in New York where it doesn't affect your livelihood. If the economic benefits are so great, why is the Act not supported by Utah’s representatives and senators?

Bryce Larkin said...

The environmentalists have too much power. There are many states that these environmentalists have in their pocket. I don't believe that keeping Utah lands safe from drilling or grazing will help the economy. It will hurt it, Utah has many families that farm and this would put them out of a business because a small group of people want to protect the lands.

Maudi said...

I'm of the belief that the government has way to much power as it is. When President Clinton was in office he took the liberty to make the Grand Stair Case a national momument and this was very hard on some people. By allowing the Federal Government to pass these laws we are giving away our freedom. It is important that we the people make these choices based upon what is right for the people, and not what is right for the government.

Kova said...

Living in a very agricultural based community in Southern Utah, the "locking up" of additional land has been a major topic around my home town. Most of the conversations I have listened to have focused on the possible effect of a decrease in land for grazing. I think extending wilderness protection in Utah is a bad idea. We need to be able to actually use the land, not just look at it. I don't see this topic evaporating anytime soon.

Dr. Tufte said...

All the posts were good, but Max got closest to the nub of the problem.

The way to protect anything is with property rights. Obviously, part of an area being a wilderness/park is that it is public. Therefore the locals will not have any property rights to the designated area. But they will retain their property rights outside the area.

So, turning an area that has been used for grazing into a wilderness takes value away from the property owners who live nearby. It is irrelevent whether they were paying for this in the past, or got that right in a fair way. What is relevent is that it is wrong to take something without compensation. But this is very typical of how governments work.

Here's an alternative: have the Feds make the locals happy first. If this means compensating them for their loss, that's fine. If it means building a visitor's center and paying for a marketing campaign, that too is an investment in the local economy.