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Wildland protection good economics

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Public lands contribute to the high quality of life in Colorado, which in turn attracts the talented workforce that is driving high-tech industries to remain in or relocate to the state, according to a new study.

The Wilderness Society, a national environmental advocacy group, released economic profiles of Colorado and 25 Western Slope counties that show timber, mining and other resource-extraction jobs aren’t the economic standbys they once were. Instead, the reports show, high-paying jobs in the service industry such as engineering, computer technology and health services are Colorado’s main source of growth in jobs and earnings.

“We would like the debate over public land management to be based on facts, not rhetoric,” said Dr. Pete Morton, an economist with The Wilderness Society. “These profiles are designed to help interested citizens and elected officials understand how their local economy has changed over the last 25 years,” he added. “The facts show that Colorado’s comparative advantage is not in extracting natural resources from our public lands, but in protecting these wildlands and the many amenities ” including scenery, outdoor recreation, wildlife and drinking water ” that they provide.”

In Summit County in 1997, according to the reports, jobs in resource extraction industries accounted for 0.4 percent of total personal income. In Eagle County, it was 0.7 percent in that year, the last for which the reports had sufficient data.

As of 1997, the mining, oil and gas, and logging industries combined made up less than 1.5 percent of Colorado’s jobs, according the reports. In contrast, the service sector accounts for 32 percent of the state’s jobs.

“This information is particularly relevant as counties examine the ramifications of proposed public land policies,” said Suzanne Jones, assistant regional director for The Wilderness Society’s Four Corners States regional office. “What the economic statistics show, at both the state and county level, is that protection of public lands is consistent with a thriving economy.”

The profiles are based on data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. The Wilderness Society also released a report by Dr. John Loomis of Colorado State University on the economic benefits of preserving forest roadless areas.

“Roadless areas contribute to economic growth in surrounding communities,” said Loomis, a professor of agriculture and resource economics. “Naturally functioning ecosystems, such as those found in roadless areas, provide many valuable services including fish and wildlife habitat, carbon storage, nutrient cycling and watershed protection.”

More jobs and higher income are two of the biggest benefits of protecting public lands, according to Loomis. His report, “The Economic Values of Protecting Roadless Areas in the United States,” shows that each year roadless areas in our national forests generate 23,705 jobs and almost $600 million in recreation benefits.

The U.S. Forest Service released a report last January that showed national forest watersheds provide clean drinking water to approximately 20 percent of the United States population, a resource valued at $3.7 billion annually.

“Protecting public lands provides many economic benefits and maintains the natural capital that forms the foundation of Colorado’s identity, quality of life and economic well-being,” Morton said.

“Economic development should not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. And wilderness is critical habitat for the golden goose.”


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