Public Lands & Waters photo

This morning, I received a press release from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership about a new study defining the economic benefits and effects of outdoor recreation, conservation, and historical preservation efforts in our country. It reports that “the great outdoors and historic preservation generate a conservative estimate of more than $1 trillion in total economic activity and support 9.4 million jobs each year. “

I hope people will take the time to actually read and ponder what is revealed here. So much of it, if we think about it, is common sense– we all know (or are) someone who owns or works in an outdoor store, or as a guide or outfitter, or who has recently bought a boat or upgraded fishing tackle or guns. The money is there, it’s moving through the economy, and it is dependent on having healthy and protected lands and waters to use that tackle or shoot those guns (imagine the miniscule percentage of the economy in France, or China that is generated from hunting and fishing- then look at the US figures in the linked study).

We take it for granted that our homes don’t flood, never really looking upstream at all the wetlands that soak up those floods before they get to us, never imagining that someone might just decide to fill those “useless” swamps to build a new parking lot, and send that torrent right down on us.

Those wetlands have a value as flood control (even if the owner won’t let you hunt the ducks that use them, and even more so if they will), and so do the woods where the trail camera snapped a photo of that giant whitetail buck, or that mysterious cougar-like creature that inspired you to buy four more trail cameras. At its most basic level, it’s called ecosystem services, and it is why we have drinking water, why it does not flood us out every time it rains, why we have everything from crappie to a 20 ounce ribeye cut from a cow that grazed public land somewhere.

We have logging. We have coal mining. We have the wonderful Bakken Oil and Gas Field, we have the Barnett Shale boom, the Marcellus, the promising Haynesville. We are pumping more domestic energy than at any time I can remember in our history. Those are good, concrete sources of economic vibrancy, plenty of good jobs and more to come, lots of supply and demand in everything from trucks to work gloves.

We have these great sources of wealth and energy security, and we’ll continue to develop them. But to deny, as we see political leaders do every day, as I see reasonably intelligent people that I know very well, doing, that protecting lands, waters and habitat costs money instead of saving and producing money is simply incorrect.

I am weary of the talk of trade-offs. This is a time and place in history where in essence, we have it all. And we can keep having it all, have even more of all of it, if we know what it is worth, and demand that, as citizens, we do not allow the ignorant or the short-sighted to murder Peter on the false promise of raising the money to pay Paul. To me, that’s what this study can help us avoid. It’s non-partisan. It’s knowledge. Check it out.