An article in today’s Daily Sentinel titled “Land of Bewilderment” says the Mesa County Commissioners voted unanimously to oppose a Congressional bill recognizing several new wilderness areas in Mesa County, including 75,000 acres in the Little Bookcliffs and the land surrounding Gateway’s stunning signature rock formation, The Palisade. Commissioner Rose Pugliese said more wilderness “is not in the best interest of Mesa County.”
Mesa County “Reagan Girl” GOP activist Marjorie Haun echoed Pugliese’s sentiment in the article, calling wilderness “an absurd notion.”
Haun and the commissioners are part of a shrinking number of people who actually believe a last-century myth that wilderness is economically harmful to nearby communities. This old-school notion is usually accompanied by a “jobs vs. environment” argument in which believers insist there is an inherent tradeoff between economic prosperity and wilderness designation.
In truth, wilderness areas don’t just protect the environment, but also have a net positive effect on local economies by generating revenue through recreation dollars, increasing property values, and generating jobs in support of a sector the Commissioners completely dismissed without a thought: outdoor recreational activities like activities like hiking, climbing, camping, paddling/kayaking, bicycling, spelunking, hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing and snow sports. The outdoor recreation economy in the U.S. supports 6.1 million jobs, generates $80 billion in annual tax revenue, and generates about $646 million in annual spending, making it one of America’s most important job sectors. Mesa County deserves a piece of that pie.
Wilderness = Economic Prosperity
A 2004 study of of 113 rural counties in the American West, 43% of which contained designated wilderness areas, showed that between 1970 and 2000 there was a significant positive correlation between the percentage of land designated as wilderness and population, income, and employment growth. New forms of economic activity accompanied the growth of wilderness areas. Growth in investment income and self-employment income were also correlated with the presence of wilderness.
We’ve already seen an example of this locally after Fruita jump-started its new-century era of growth by marketing itself as a mountain bike mecca. Fruita intelligently capitalized on its proximity to significant public lands like the desert north of Fruita on 18 Road, and the wilderness of Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area.
Mesa County should be just as intelligent about wilderness areas. We don’t have to let old-school GOP commissioners who cling to outdated myths ruin the future of Mesa County any more. If you support the bill to designate more wilderness areas in Mesa County, email Colorado Congressmember Diana Degette, who introduced the bill, by clicking on this link.