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GUEST COLUMN: Wildlands policy protects public lands and our economic future

By: Dave Leinweber
April 7, 2011

As recreation business owners and outfitters, we are part of an industry that contributes $730 billion to the U.S. economy, supports 6.5 million jobs and generates about $88 billion in state and national tax revenue. As such, protecting outdoor space is not just important to us personally, but a matter of economic security.

That is why the recent announcement by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, that the federal government would fulfill its obligation to protect open spaces in the U.S., was welcome news to our industry.

The Secretarial Order addressing “wild lands” simply directs the Bureau of Land Management to better meet its fundamental multiple use mandate by inventorying “lands with wilderness characteristics” and protecting appropriate areas through existing land management planning. This process also includes continuous opportunities for local officials and communities to participate.

Our businesses depend on public land so consumers have a place to recreate, using the products and services we sell. The economic value of these open spaces is not in doubt — it is a proven resource on which our businesses and an array of other related businesses depend to ensure our livelihoods, and those of future generations.

We know from our own businesses, and research by the Outdoor Industry Association has confirmed, that conservation of public lands is good business. Rural counties with wilderness or other protected federal lands experience greater economic and population growth than those without wilderness. Protected lands have the greatest influence on economic growth in isolated rural counties that lack easy access to larger markets.

Between 1970 and 2000, real per capita income in rural counties with protected land grew more than 60 percent faster than isolated counties without any protected land.

Those opposed to this measure, including the oil and gas industry and their allies, forget that this is taxpayer-owned land. Furthermore, not a lot of land. Of the 245 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management, oil and gas leases account for over 41 million, 29 million of which are sitting idle.

In Colorado, the BLM manages 8.3 million acres of taxpayer-owned lands, of which 205,888 are designated wilderness, about 2 percent. We all have a responsibility to maintain these lands.

The wild lands policy simply acknowledges the clear wording of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act that mandates that the Department of the Interior inventory the resources and other values of our public land and make appropriate land use decisions through its public planning process, better equipping itself to advise Congress.

Simply put, it gives all public land users a more clear understanding and predictability for use. That is just good, old common sense.

Secretary Salazar’s Order helps to return to a critical balance between all activities on our public lands, and protection of those lands for years to come.

We encourage Congress — and all Americans — to support this fundamental tool for the protection of our public lands.

It is not just our businesses that depend on smart wild lands management — it is the economic future of our nation.

Dave Leinweber is an avid outdoorsmen, fisherman and businessman and is the proud owner and operator of Anglers Covey in Colorado Springs.

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