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Zinke’s leaked recommendations ignore the priorities of gateway communities
Following a leaked memo from the Department of the Interior, which recommends resizing national monuments or opening them up to mining, logging and industrial purposes, The Center for Jackson Hole relates that potential changes to monuments have gateway community members worried.
As part of its upcoming SHIFT Festival, which explores the business case for public lands, The Center for Jackson Hole has interviewed business owners and civic leaders in communities adjacent to national monuments around the country.
“Often, the designations are their economic engines,” said Christian Beckwith, the organization’s founder and the director of SHIFT. “Mayors, the heads of chambers of commerce, business leaders: across the board, they fear changes in national monument boundaries could have a negative impact on their bottom lines.”
Research indicates they have a right to be worried. Headwaters Economics has studied the local economies surrounding 17 national monuments in the western United States and found that all of them showed either continued or improved growth in key economic indicators such as population, employment, personal income, and per-capita income.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation—one of national monuments’ main attractions—generates $887 billion in consumer spending and 7.6 million jobs each year.
The perspectives of business owners, community leaders and outdoor recreationists will be center stage at the 2017 SHIFT Festival as it examines how investments in outdoor recreation and the conservation of public lands benefit local economies.
National monuments are one of the Festival highlights. Representatives from Grand Staircase-Escalante, Organ Peaks-Desert Mountains and Bears Ears national monuments, among others, will be showcased in a panel that focuses on The Designation Effect: How the economies of national monument gateway communities around the country have been impacted by the designations.
Dave Conine, former Utah State Director for USDA Rural Development and one of the featured panelists, notes that, “Since President Clinton designated the Grand Staircase as a national monument, there has been a dramatic increase in new construction and local business development, all related to the increase in tourism and the economic diversification that follows the visitor-based economy.”
Another panelist, Carrie Hamblen, CEO/President of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, reports similar impacts from the designation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
“The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument has been an economic driver for Las Cruces,” Hamblen says. “Our local businesses have benefited from the monument by creating OMDP products and services. Changing the language of the proclamation would hinder the positive economic impact our protected public lands have had for our community.”
Another theme that emerged in conversations with community leaders was that Secretary Zinke often didn’t take their perspectives into account in his recommendations.
“The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was established and expanded to protect its remarkable biodiversity,” said Dave Willis, Chair of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council. “But its economic benefits are not lost on the two closest towns, Ashland and Talent. On behalf of their towns, both mayors urged Secretary Zinke not to turn the clock back on Cascade-Siskiyou. It’s too bad the Secretary doesn’t seem to be listening.”
Suzanne Catlett, President of the Escalante & Boulder Chamber of Commerce, reports a related concern.
“For Escalante, there will be impacts from [Secretary Zinke’s] recommendation, beginning with uncertainty, as several entities challenge this action in court,” Catlett said. “If reductions are made after that process, it will be clear that the administration is not considering the American citizens’ pleas to leave the areas as they are.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by representatives from Bears Ears and Katahdin Woods and Waters national monuments.
SHIFT will begin opening night, November 1, with a special presentation on Utah’s Bear’s Ears National Monument—a critical monument slated for dramatic reduction per Secretary Zinke’s recommendation.
“All recommendations by Secretary Zinke regarding Bears Ears National Monument are fundamentally flawed because the Secretary never took the time to meet with and listen to local Native Americans, despite numerous invitations,” said Willie Grayeyes, Utah Diné Bikéyah Board Chair.
On SHIFT’s closing night, Lucas St. Clair will keynote a presentation on Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. St. Clair is the President of Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., a 2017 SHIFT Award Official Selection for its role in the creation of the monument.
“The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument has led to increased economic stability in the region,” said St. Clair. “To threaten the conservation and recreational resource with timber harvesting puts in jeopardy the very thing that is helping the region at such an important time.
“The [Secretary Zinke] recommendation creates more questions than answers and provokes more anxiety about the future then certainty. That is not the role of government.”
Throughout the festival, SHIFT’s popular working sessions will provide an opportunity for business leaders to learn how others are successfully harnessing industry voices to advance public land issues. There will also be workshops that will equip attendees with new insights and actionable strategies on how outdoor recreation can reinvigorate local economies.
“The benefits of outdoor recreation and the conservation of public lands are critical to our economy,” said Beckwith. “As long as public land designations remain vulnerable, we’ll need to fight to protect our investments. That’s the point of this year’s SHIFT.”
For more information, tickets, travel and accommodation details, and a complete 2017 SHIFT Festival schedule, please visit http://shiftjh.org/.
SHIFT (Shaping How we Invest For Tomorrow) is an annual festival that explores issues at the intersection of conservation, outdoor recreation and cultural relevancy. It is a project of The Center for Jackson Hole, whose mission is to strengthen the coalition of interests devoted to our public lands. Join the SHIFT movement! Sign up for our community at SHIFTjh.org, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.