$1 Trillion

Scott Christensen of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition fishes the Greybull River in Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest. The Greybull is a world class fishery in northwest Wyoming, with a long stretch of Yellowstone cutthroat trout water, an imperiled keystone species of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

A new report revealed that conservation, recreation, and preservation contribute a whopping $1 trillion per year to the US economy! It’s a stunning number by any measure that should give pause to officials considering development in important natural and recreation areas. I’ve often wondered why sportsmen (and women), recreationists, bird watchers, photographers and others get little recognition as the West gets carved up for industry; and it’s starting to make sense. Industry has the loudest voice, the biggest PR machine, employs a lot of people (the TV ads say that gas employs 9.3 million folks), and contributes to county coffers. It’s the reason that Pinedale, WY, with no stoplights, has an astroturf HS football field and a world-class aquatic center. They also have worse air quality than LA in winter… Big Oil’s unrelenting lobbying and PR has worked so well that the nation overlooked the negatives associated with fracking for “clean natural gas” until the big population centers back east started screaming about the Marcellus Shale boom and threats to NYC’s watershed. Big Oil has done a great job of making us believe that hydraulic fracturing is somehow good for us. They’ve also transformed the American landscape in a little over a decade – fracking is in its infancy and we’ve barely seen the tip of the iceberg of impacts (think Titanic).

Before I get too far down the road of my fracking rant, what about that $1 trillion in conservation, outdoor recreation, and preservation? Decision makers take it for granted, simple. It will always be there, right? Hunters will buy ATV’s, camo gear, guns, stay in rural cabins, eat a few meals out and buy beer at the local watering hole; they always have. Fisherman, birders, mountain bikers, hikers, climbers, backpackers too. Money from industry is extra revenue on top of those recreation dollars, right? How else are you going to build an aquatic center in rural Wyoming? Granted, we don’t have lobbyists or fancy tv ads, so no seat at the table, but $1 trillion and 9.4 million jobs should be worth something for outdoor recreation. It’s sustainable money that gets spent every year and it’s taken for granted. What happens if the next generation decides it’s not worth it to recreate around the fringes of loud, polluted industrial zones that use up our public lands, our natural heritage for filthy energy extraction? They stop spending in those rural towns, that’s what.

The solution is simple, and extremely complicated. Complicated because we have a political environment that’s as toxic as a gas field. Simple because we could get some really smart people together and draw polygons around our most treasured and important lands, preserving migrations and cores, and protecting our natural and recreational heritage. Then we regulate energy producers and make them pay their way to use our lands. We could get it done in a week; but it would take courage, and that’s the problem.

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