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.