Opinion

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Closing Range

Brother, Can You Paradigm?

Closing Range

Eighty-six-hundred bucks! That was the news a couple weeks ago, that fully 24 percent of Flathead County’s per capita income of $35,546 is thanks to 1.3 million acres of “protected public lands” – Glacier National Park and the wildernesses. Yay! We CAN eat the scenery!
Um, where’s my check?

This was all according to a study conducted by lead author Ray Rasker, PhD., of Headwaters Economics, a spin-off from the left-wing Sonoran Institute. The publication of the study was amply promoted to the news media, of course.

This promotion was helped along in Montana by a pro-wilderness op-ed from Jeff Welch of Bozeman, whose marketing firm is a member of the previously unheard of “Businesses for Montana Outdoors,” BMO for short.

First, the study: Rasker and his team found “[t]hree economic measures were positively associated with protected public lands:” Per capita income (PCI), growth in PCI, and growth in per capita investment income.

In 284 “non-metro” counties in the West, including West Coast states, on average, Rasker’s team claimed that county per capita income is $4,360 higher per 100,000 acres of “protected public lands.”

In “protected” counties, resource production and all that antique guff are “minimized” in favor of a “new paradigm of the amenity region,” with citizens desiring “amenity space,” second homes, and “environmental protection.”

To Rasker’s credit (and probably because the report is peer-reviewed), the authors acknowledged other studies indicating that perhaps “protected lands” don’t pay off that well. One Rasker-cited study of the Northwest Forest Plan (spotted owls, remember them?) found in most of the timber towns: “[t]he total negative effect on employment was offset only slightly by positive migration-driven effects.”

Only slightly? No kidding …

Nine counties West-wide have more than 1 million acres of “protected” federal lands, with just one in Montana – Flathead! Therefore, none of us should have to work at all, right? Um, no, “one might be tempted to compare a county with 1,000,000 acres” with one without and “conclude that those 1,000,000 acres … account for $43,600 in per-capita income.”

No wonder the authors warned actual readers of the study “[c]aution and reason should be used in interpreting the statistical results described in this paper.”

Now, back to Business for Montana’s Outdoors – BMO is run by the former manager of Big Sky’s chamber of commerce. According to the Lone Peak Lookout, she then signed on as a “consultant for the Bozeman based non-profit, Headwaters Economics.” Her first task was to host a 2012 Helena meeting promoting another pro-wilderness Rasker study, and out of that, came BMO!

The list of BMO member businesses isn’t coincidental, either – basically “footloose” firms, such as a Bozeman data-mining outfit offering “geospatial big data,” plus travel providers – of a certain, politically-correct type of travel.

Another BMO member, Cool Works, lists “Jobs in Great Places” – listings for Montana were all temporary dude ranch or summer hospitality service jobs – a perfect affirmation of Rasker’s notation that “[w]ilderness counties generate far more growth in lower paying industries like hotels and other lodging places and eating and drinking establishments […]”
There’s also a Bozeman purveyor of high-end hiking footwear – actually made “in Asia” – but their code of conduct promises not to use child labor “younger than 15 (or 14 where local law allows).” Now, how footloose is THAT?

Finally, BMO’s president, Jeff Welch: His firm, Mercury CSC, did the “Get Lost in Montana” and “There’s Nothing Here” tourism campaigns – targeted at “geotravelers” in large metro areas through the New Yorker and Backpacker.

Ya know, I love economic diversity. Tourism, even “geotourism,” is an important part of Montana’s economic mix. But it appears if Montana’s non-touristy, place-based economy caved in, none of these “footloose” businesses would suffer.

If there really was “Nothing Here” for other Montanans, would these businesses care?

Well, with global client bases, they don’t need to, and their promotion of Headwaters’ agenda-driven “study” proves they don’t.

I suggest to any business or think-tank willing to use economic voodoo to promote a narrow “paradigm” of economic exclusion, in which average, non-yuppie Montanans will be lucky to have two nickels to rub together – keep your paradigm, please.