Money Isn’t Everything, But It Sure Helps

By Beacon Staff

Too often, news articles miss the real story: Casper Star Tribune reporter Jeremy Fugelberg’s July 3 effort covered “The Department of the Interior’s Economic Contributions” report on the agency’s role in our nation’s economy – 146 pages of “Fund Us Lavishly, We’re Really Important.”

In Wyoming, which is 30 percent Bureau of Land Management (plus Yellowstone National Park), Fugelberg reported that activities on Department of the Interior land and subsurface estate contributed $29 billion to Wyoming’s economy: “Recreation, tourism and mineral development supported the most jobs and generated the most money in Wyoming.”

What’s wrong with that? It’s true! But Fugelberg’s very next paragraph nukes his lead-in:

“Coal, gas, oil and other mineral activities supported more than 93,000 jobs and contributed $26.4 billion to the state’s economy. Recreation and tourism supported more than 15,000 jobs, the second-highest in the nation, and generated $1.19 billion, according to the report.”

That means Interior-estate mineral jobs in Wyoming outnumber Interior-estate recreation jobs by over 6 to 1. Further, each minerals job generated $283,870 in activity per job, against $79,333 for recreation, 3.5 times more.

Data posted by Kaiser Family Foundation puts Wyoming’s gross state product at $38.527 billion in 2010 – meaning that fully 68 percent of Wyoming’s economy is a BLM public-estate minerals economy, while recreation and tourism on Interior lands (including Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks) are good for, um, 3 percent.

Further perspective: Wyoming is home to the Thunder Basin coal fields that produce 40 percent of America’s electric coal and America’s most popular National Park. Objectively, which makes more “economic contributions?” Yep … Fugelberg (or his editor) should have listed “mineral development” first, not last.

To his credit, Fugelberg duly cited various Wyoming GOP politicians who were less than impressed with the report, and caught on to Gov. Matt Mead’s “multiple use approach,” quoting Mead’s declaration that multiple use in Wyoming “created a model that allows for energy, recreation, tourism, agriculture and other industries to flourish. We have found a balance that is inclusive and eschews the ‘either-or’ situation.”

In Utah, Interior’s leading recreation state, Gov. Gary Herbert bragged up Utah’s tourism performance in 2010: “BLM lands around Moab and Arches National Park attracted 2.3 million visits. Visitors from out-of-town spent an estimated $269.2 million and supported 3,991 local jobs” – statewide about 20,000 jobs (of which 15,000 were “in rural areas of Utah”) and $1.7 billion in economic activity.

Herbert, like Mead, declared the “report confirms that the multiple use of our public lands is beneficial in many ways.” Mead also touted Utah’s 27,741 energy and mineral jobs on Interior-managed estate in Utah, oddly without noting those jobs were worth $5.5 billion – per job, $200,403 to $85,000, or 2.4 times more GDP per job than recreation.

What about Montana, with 8 million acres (8.5 percent) being BLM? Interior’s report gives a total of 9,451 Montana recreation jobs and $771 million in economy (including Glacier and Yellowstone national parks). Mining and petroleum’s 5,401 total jobs drew $1.08 billion for a per-job ratio of 2.44. Interestingly, Montana had zero jobs and impact from alternative energy – remember BLM’s Bitter Creek wind farm proposal, shot down by Greens who want a wilderness there?

Interior attributes 19 percent of its nationwide economic impact to playtime activities, and 57 percent to energy and minerals. But Interior’s report instead emphasizes recreation, plus devotes an entire chapter to a torturous discussion of “non-use values” and “ecosystem services” provided by biological/cultural (i.e., non-mineral) assets, all while treating the agency’s de-facto primary economic contributions like an unwanted stepchild. Perhaps that’s why the “story” in our media is about playtime.

What’s going on here? Priorities – resetting priorities with political spin. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar clearly desires to move Interior away from its current multiple-use reality toward a preservationist model. Should he?

Well, money isn’t everything, but as the numbers show, economic uses in the multiple use realm are critical to the “worth” Americans derive from their public lands and mineral holdings.

Salazar and President Barack Obama need to learn what Gov. Mead knows: Making money from multiple use on public lands works well, and should be encouraged – not just in Wyoming, but all across the West.

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