Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Time to end recreation welfare on public lands

Cha-ching! That’s the sound celebrated at Sen. Jon Tester’s Last Best Outdoors Fest held in Columbia Falls recently. The theme was that Montana’s booming outdoor economy depends on our federal lands that provide hiking trails, climbing rocks, ski slopes, and scenery. According to Business for Montana Outdoors, 86,000 new service jobs were created in Montana between 2000 and 2015, but those jobs included the health care and real estate sectors, which also are booming.

Indeed, public lands provide a loud “cha-ching,” but that sound is louder in boardrooms of “the rock climbing industrial complex” than on Main Street Montana. In 2015, for example, North Face reported sales of $12.4 billion, REI sales of $2.4 billion, and Patagonia $750 million.

...For those who do venture beyond parking lots, recreation, like the fest, is “absolutely free and open to everyone.” That free lunch comes at great cost to U.S. taxpayers. Every year the federal government takes in about 20 cents for every dollar it spends according to a study by the Property and Environment Research Center. That means the outdoor industry and its customers are heavily subsidized. In contrast, the same study showed that our federal lands take in almost $20 for every dollar spent on mineral land management.

So why is a practical Eastern Montana farmer and senator hosting an outdoor fest that drains the U.S. Treasury? The answer is that, like robbing a bank because that is where the money is, public lands are where the votes are. According to a Colorado College poll, 63 percent of Montanans call themselves conservationists, and most of these are millennials moving to the state believing that federal lands are not for logging, grazing, mining and oil drilling.

This also explains the $1.4 million ad campaign by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers attacking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s national monument review...

Our public lands are not going to go to the highest dollar bidder, but they do go to the highest vote bidder. The problem is that the political market place is neither fiscally nor environmentally prudent, and public land love fests will not change this.

Federal lands could be better managed and could be an asset for the U.S. Treasury. By insisting that they are free, we simply pad the pockets of big business. Real change will only come if those of us who use those lands pay for taking care of them...

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