Resources - Economics
Sensible Solutions: Balancing Hardrock Mining with Fish and Wildlife Resources in the West - produced by Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, National Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited with editorial support from the Sonoran Institute.
Open space, outdoor recreation, sublime scenery, access to protected public land, quality of life – these are the West’s competitive advantage in the changing global economy. The Sonoran Institute’s economic research contributes to our work toward a vision of the West with healthy landscapes, vibrant communities and a resilient economy where conservation and prosperity go hand-in-hand.
Public Lands Conservation and Economic Well-Being
What is the relationship between how public lands are managed in the western U.S. and the economic health of their neighboring communities? The Sonoran Institute researched this question and found that protected lands are vital economic assets to the western communities that are prospering the most. Our 2004 report, “Prosperity in the 21st Century West: The Role of Protected Public Lands,” has been widely used to help communities, land managers, county commissioners and other decision makers understand the changing role of public lands in the West’s economy. Its basic finding that public lands, especially those protected from extractive uses, are significant drivers of prosperity in the West continues to inform local and regional decisions about economic development and land use.
Economic Impact of Mining
The Sonoran Institute studies the impact and potential impact of mining development on local and regional economies in the West. Several reports on this research are available (see Resources). Two 2008 studies explored potential economic impacts of mining in southeast Arizona and in Gunnison County, Colorado. Both places exemplify the West’s changing economy, luring residents – and visitors – with clean air and water, small communities, and the scenery, recreation and other attractions of public lands.
- Southeast Arizona’s federal lands have seen increased mineral exploration and development in recent years, raising local concerns about impacts on the economy, the environment and communities. The study on this area indicated that proposed mining activities would bring economic benefits – employment, business purchases and local taxes paid – and costs – decreased recreation and tourism revenues; decreased property values; increased commuting; and reduced appeal to retirees and knowledge-based businesses. Mining would also bring water depletion and environmental degradation that could seriously impact the local economy long after the mine closed.
- In 1872 when Congress enacted legislation for staking claims and mining on federal land, miners were flocking into Gunnison County for the silver and gold in the abundant public lands. For the past 30 years, skiers, hikers, retirees, second-home owners and New Economy workers have been flocking to the area to enjoy those same federal lands. The Institute’s study indicates that if the proposed Lucky Jack mine near Crested Butte goes into operation and displaces only a small percentage of tourism-related spending, the economic loss could be significant. "This report shows exactly why the 1872 Mining Law should be reformed," says Dan Morse, public lands director for High Country Citizens' Alliance in Crested Butte. "Federal mining law must recognize that the West has become a very different place in the past 136 years, and mining is not always the most economically beneficial use of our public lands."
Smart Growth Policies & Property Values
The Sonoran Institute promotes smart growth across the West, supported by our research on its economic implications. The Institute is working with property owners, developers and local planners to implement a growth management strategy for the Gallatin Valley in Gallatin County, Montana, which comprises the rapidly developing small urban area of Bozeman within a rural setting in the Greater Yellowstone area. Using research conducted through our joint venture with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, we are preparing a report on the likely impacts of smart growth policy implementation on property values in the county. The results will be presented to property owners, land developers and local decision-makers by June 2009.
Excerpts from the Sonoran Institute’s “Prosperity” report:
“Research shows that the West’s economy is driven by people’s decision about where they want to live, a rapid rise in retirement and investment income, and the increased attractiveness of communities surrounded by protected public lands.”
“In the past decade, a widening body of research has shown that amenities, such as environmental quality, a slower pace of life, low crime rates, scenery, recreational opportunities – quality of life, for short – are influencing people’s decision to live and do business in rural areas.”
“The more public lands a county has, or the closer it is to protected lands, the faster the economic growth. … The slowest growth occurs in counties with public lands that are unprotected and not close to protected areas.”