Public lands comprise a major portion of the western landscape and shape rural economies and cultures by providing raw materials, recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat and desirable scenic qualities. Management goals for public lands range from conservation to development of commodity resources such as oil, gas and minerals. This paper examines the relationship between economic security and varying land management and usage strategies in the rural Rocky Mountain West. A geographic information system is used to analyze the percentage of land in each county managed under three scenarios:
(1) Recreation and conservation;
(2) Development of commodity resources; and
(3) A combination thereof.
The analysis indicates that the jobs, income and growth from the commodity production sectors in the rural Rocky Mountain West, while still significant, have not experienced the growth seen by the rest of the regional economy. Rural counties with greater areas actively conserved for recreation, conservation plus lower impact commodity uses – including balanced levels of timber, mining and energy development – actually enjoy relatively higher income, population and employment growth. Counties dominated by conservation and recreation lands also have higher property values and high proportions of higher-income workers.
Communities need the energy and materials provided by the commodities sector. Individuals – residents and tourists alike – demand the quality of life provided by the region’s fish, wildlife and scenic resources. Nearly all rural Rocky Mountain communities need the jobs and income generated by both sectors. Public officials at the local, state and federal levels must carefully balance the needs and impacts from land use management decisions on all economic sectors to ensure the best, most rewarding economic future for the Rocky Mountain West.
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