This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The next several months are pivotal for the future of America's public lands. It is not easy to articulate how we have gotten to this point – but here we are.
It seems like only yesterday that the outdoor industry and outdoor recreation economy were tiny blips on the radar of our national economy and jobs figures, yet over the last 20 years, the outdoor recreation economy has grown exponentially and contributes $887 billion per year to the nation's GDP, and is responsible for over 7 million American jobs across the country.
The outdoor recreation economy, and the industry that supports it, is a major force in international trade, economic development, job creation and public lands policy and is a major financial contributor to programs that get kids and families outside across the nation. It is a growing economy that is uniquely American.
The outdoor industry supports protecting our nation's public lands, not just because the American landscape and its rugged, natural beauty sets our nation apart from the rest of the world, but also because America's public lands are the very foundation, the infrastructure, of the massive outdoor recreation economy.
So, why are the next few months so pivotal? President Trump signed an Executive Order last month ordering the Department of the Interior to review the designation of National Monuments over 100,000 acres in size and created between 1996 and the end of 2016 under the authority of the Antiquities Act, a Teddy Roosevelt-era law that has protected more of America's landscapes and waterways than perhaps any other law. Interestingly, the majority of Utah's National Parks were first protected as monuments.
As part of his department's review, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has stated that he is committed to a transparent process that will take into account the views of multiple stakeholders. This is a good starting point, and we look forward to working with the Administration, Secretary Zinke and others to highlight the significant, beneficial role National Monuments and the Antiquities Act play in our American heritage, the protection of iconic places, and the development of local economies built on recreation and tourism.
The notion that monuments are harmful to their surrounding communities and result in net job loss is demonstrably false. Cities and towns that have protected lands like National Parks and Monuments attract employers in fast-growing economic sectors like tech and health care. It is proven that the communities that protect and invest in recreation infrastructure end up having more diverse economies and are better prepared to weather potential economic downturns.
While it is true that some traditional jobs do, at times, decrease with the designation of a monument in the short-term, those losses tend to stabilize even as the local economy transitions. The addition of monuments in most cases speeds up the economic diversification of the local community from traditional rural economies to a more dynamic combination of energy development, agriculture, ranching, tourism and outdoor recreation that coexist on the land. These economies and the local tax base that supports schools and government services benefit from adding more recreation-related businesses such as guide services, retailers, manufacturers and additional service related jobs such as doctors, engineers and teachers. Outdoor recreation generates $59 billion in state and local tax revenue.
As Secretary Zinke visits Utah this week and begins the evaluation of past monument designations, we ask that he remember that our national monuments are already the people's lands and that he consider the full and positive impact they have on the overall physical and economic health of our nation. We hope he notes the benefits they provide to our rural communities by counting ALL of the businesses and jobs added over a period of time after a designation, and the growth of the community's economy before and after the designation. As we have seen in Garfield County, Utah or Chaffee County, Colorado, if the process is truly transparent, the findings will be enlightening and should inform any eventual decision by this Administration on existing and future national monuments.
Amy Roberts is executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association.