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Wilderness and the economy

Posted by Wendell Wood at Feb 08, 2012 02:05 PM |
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The myth of wilderness designations crippling rural economies.

Wilderness and the economy

California's protected Wildernss. (Map by California Wildernsss Coaltion).

We got an e-mail from a long time member and noted ecologist George Wuerthner this week.

The subject: Is the oft-repeated line that Wilderness designations hurt local economic development true?

George took a look at a map of California Wilderness areas and had these thoughts:


One of the often repeated ideas that opponents to wilderness and wildlands protection repeat is that wilderness designation will cripple economic development. Not that economic development is the goal of wilderness/park designation, but it's frequently not the hindrance that folks make it out to be.

California has more designated wilderness than any other state outside of Alaska both in terms of total wilderness acreage--around 15 million acres at this point, making up about 14% of the state's acreage--far more than any other state. It also one of the most significant economies in the United States.

If wilderness designation were a hindrance to economic prosperity, we would expect California to be among the poorest states. In fact if you wanted to use correlation kinds of logic--inappropriate in the case of California--one could argue that the more wilderness and protected landscapes you have, the better for your economic bottom line. Of course California has many other factors in its favor as well, but wildlands protection is hardly crippling its economy.

A couple of other things to note is how much of the Sierra Nevada is designated wilderness running from Tahoe area in the north south to Walker Pass--more than 3 million acres--and it makes up one of the largest continuous blocks of wilderness in the lower 48 states. Although the big block of wilderness in the desert centered on Death Valley NP is also huge--also more than 3 million acres.

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