Denver, Colo. – The nation’s hunters and anglers who know firsthand the value of this country’s public lands are urging federal lawmakers struggling with budget woes and joblessness to remember the boon those wide open spaces have been to state and local economies.
A new report showing that outdoor recreation, conservation and historic preservation generate about $1 trillion annually for the U.S. economy should be a red flag for members of Congress pushing to repeal reasonable regulation of energy development on public lands in the name of economic development. Rolling back oil and gas leasing reforms and commonsense environmental rules would threaten the 9.4 million jobs and $107 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues that the study, conducted by Southwick Associates and commissioned by The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, found conservation and outdoor activities provide.
“We need to recognize that open spaces and outdoor recreation are a vital part of the make-up of public lands management and provide for thousands of sustainable jobs in local communities and millions of dollars to Western states every year. All these economic gains will be jeopardized with this approach to overseeing energy development and our public lands,” said Steve Belinda, director of energy programs for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
A jobs bill announced Thursday by Republican lawmakers emphasizes boosting domestic energy production to spur employment and revenue. Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition of more than 500 businesses and organizations, values the jobs and revenue from energy development that safeguards air and water quality and fish and wildlife habitat.
However, hunters and anglers have seen what happens when widespread, intense drilling is allowed with little or no regard to its impacts on natural resources. Peer-reviewed studies show mule deer numbers in western Wyoming have dramatically dropped. Deer and pronghorn populations are declining along the Colorado-Wyoming line, according to a recent National Wildlife Federation report. Greater sage-grouse populations are teetering at the point of no return in large swaths of the West. Smog in heavily drilled areas of the rural West exceeds levels in Los Angeles.
The Interior Department’s leasing reforms attempt to balance responsible energy development with other activities on public lands, aiming to ensure they remain open to multiple use. Contrary to criticism, the reforms haven’t blocked development. Data from the Interior Department show that nearly 22 million acres of the 38 million onshore acres leased to industry are currently inactive.
“For generations, we’ve seen fish and game and the habitat they need take a back seat to the desires of the oil and gas industry. When the concerns of sportsmen are addressed before public lands are opened for leasing, we don’t have to resort to protests and litigation that delay development plans,” said Brad Powell, energy director of Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project.
The importance of outdoor recreation is especially visible this time of year across the West as small towns hang out their blaze-orange “welcome” signs for hunters. Any jobs plan needs to keep in mind that hunting, fishing, rafting, tourism, wildlife watching, hiking, biking and a host of other activities made possible by the open, public spaces are a sustainable, key part of economies for rural communities and states across the country.