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Crossposted from UNBOSSED

My series on the CONSERVATION ECONOMY makes these main points:

1. Conservation pays, conservation pays immediately and conservation pays on multiple levels. Whether you are talking wilderness or windfarms, conservation pays;

2. The conservation economy is a bridging issue.  One that can cross boundaries to bring divergent interests together, bring the conservation movement into the mainstream and realize sustainable economic benefit for communities that seek to be conservation-minded.

Today we learn more.  National Parks in Wyoming generate significant economic growth for surrounding communities and the state as a whole. It's the same story all over the country.

The Conservation Economy Series:

The Conservation Economy, Part I; demonstrated that Wilderness as an economic generator for Western communities.

The Conservation Economy, Part II; discussed the tourism potential associated with conservation as well as how environmental issues can gain us allies.

The Conservation Economy, Part III; described the why and how of a Restoration Economy.

The Conservation Economy, Part IV; discussed the economic value of natural systems, otherwise known as Ecosystem Services or, Natural Capital.

From Wilderness to Windfarms discussed the economic impacts of a Wilderness proposal in southern New Mexico.

Roadless Areas Generate Big Money discussed the massive economic benefit Roadless lands bring to New Mexico.

National Parks

WASHINGTON -- Communities near national parks in Wyoming reap hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits annually and support thousands of jobs thanks to the parks, according to a new National Park Service study.

Wyoming had 6.8 million visits to its national parks in fiscal year 2005. Its parks sparked $438 million in benefits and supported 10,065 local jobs, the study said.

Nationwide there were nearly 273 million recreational visits to National Parks  during the 2005 fiscal year.  Those visits generated more than $10.3 billion in benefits to local economies and supported more than 236,000 jobs, according to the study mentioned in the article.  Its important to note that:

Those figures don't include the Park Service's central offices, including the national office in Washington, regional offices and program centers throughout the country. Taking those offices into account, the economic benefits are close to $12 billion and the number of jobs hits about 246,400....

$12 BILLION and over 246,000 jobs generated by national parks alone?!?!  That is an astounding number.  But not surprising to me, at least. Are our National Parks a good investment of our tax dollars?  By the numbers quoted above alone, the answer is clearly yes.  Then consider this:

President Bush's 2007 budget requested nearly $2.2 billion for the Park Service. Using that figure and the estimated benefit of $10.3 billion, PEER estimated that the national parks generate nearly $5 of economic benefits for every tax dollar invested in park budgets.

In all these numbers and dollar signs it is important to remember that National Parks, like other protected land from Wilderness Areas to National Monuments, serve other purposes than just that of economic generators. I don't want to be dragged into the argument that we shouldn't attempt to put economic values on the intangibles because clearly I believe we should.  That said, there are many other values to our protected lands JUST AS VITAL as income generation and job creation that we may never be able to quantify.   National Parks serve our national interest by protecting and conserving everything from watershed headwaters to sensitive landscapes to wildlife to archaeological resources.  Thus, individual parks that may generate relatively less income should not be disparaged nor endangered and National Parks and Wilderness Areas, etc. would be endlessly valuable to our nation even if they did not generate the income they do.

Over use of the parks is one of those potential dangers and Jeff Ruch of the group Public Employees for Environmental Protection (PEER) makes this salient point:

"Our concern is that ... it's a one-dimensional view and (parks) need to be concerned that they're not the goose that lays the golden egg," he said. "By trying to attract more visitation, they make the parks less desirable places to go. Because they're crowded, formerly pristine parks now have air-quality problems. They're poorly maintained."

The snowmobile controversy in Yellowstone  is the perfect example of these sorts of conflicts:

For years, noise and fumes from thousands of gasoline - powered snowmobiles have sparked complaints from winter visitors and park employees. Some rangers working near heavy snowmobile traffic have had to wear respirators and hearing protection. The snowmobile situation, many people have argued, is out of control.

After an environmental impact study and 22 public hearings around the country in the final years of the Clinton administration, the Park Service issued a regulation to phase out snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park.

But before that ban could go into effect, snowmobilers had a new friend in the White House President George W. Bush. They sued the National Park Service to cancel the planned snowmobile phase-out. The White House ordered a second environmental impact study. The results, published February 20, call for a reversal of the proposed snowmobile ban.

Dont kill your resource.  Its amazing that a lot of Westerners have yet to get it.

Wyoming's historical stand against protected public land is ironic given the benefit it derives from those lands:

According to the study, Grand Teton National Park had nearly 2.5 million visits, generated $118 million and supported 2,727 local jobs. The John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway had more than 1 million visits, generated $5 million and supported 116 local jobs. Yellowstone had more than 2.8 million visits, generated $298 million and supported 6,815 local jobs.

Also in Wyoming in fiscal year 2005, Devils Tower National Monument had 370,911 visits, generated $12.9 million in benefits to the local area and supported 310 local jobs. Fort Laramie National Historic Site had 48,418 visits, generated $2.8 million and supported 69 local jobs. Fossil Butte National Monument near Kemmerer had 17,916 visits, generated $1.1 million and supported 28 local jobs.

Protected public lands are vital to the future of the West. They must continue to be preserved and protected for a multitude of reasons, one of which is the massive amount of money and jobs they generate for our nation. Democrats and advocates of public land protection must be sure to highlight the benefits these lands bring to our national economy and the economies of local communities.

Originally posted to environmentalist on Thu Aug 24, 2006 at 11:13 AM PDT.

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