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"When we strive to pass wilderness legislation, what we are really engaged in is democracy at work."
- Bart Koehler

Read an important message about patriotism and the purpose of wilderness from our friends at the Wilderness Support Center in Colorado.

Wilderness and the Economy

Wilderness and Nature Spur Arizona Economy

by Barbara Hawke, Executive Director, AWC

Preserving wilderness and conserving public lands makes good economic sense. A number of studies have shown that people value preserved landscapes, scenic beauty and outdoor recreation, and they want to live and work where there is great quality of life. For the rural west, conserved public lands are an especially important asset to attract entrepreneurs, retirees and tourists who bring dollars into the community.

Here we share an array of research and articles that explore the economic benefits of preserving wilderness and public lands.

New in 2017:

The Big Outdoors is Big Business
Arizona's public lands are a huge economic driver, with outdoor recreation generating $21.2 billion in consumer spending annually, $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenue, and 201,000 direct jobs - more jobs than Arizona's aerospace, defense, and tech sectors combined.  Read the latest report from the Outdoor Industry Association here.

Conservation in the West
A poll of westerners from all backgrounds shows overwhelming support for conserving natural resources on public lands. In Arizona, 70% of respondents felt loss of habitat for fish and wildlife was a serious problem, and 80% supported promoting the outdoor economy. The majority of respondents also supported retaining existing national monuments, and keeping national public lands under federal management. These are clear messages for elected officials and agency managers that the public wants to preserve the natural values of our public lands.

Read the Arizona summary here, the detailed Arizona report here, and more background here.

Where we were in 2016:

Economic Contribution of Quiet Recreation on BLM Lands
Quiet recreation on BLM lands provides an estimated $162 million in spending impact for Arizona, according to a new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts. These findings offer great support for the need to retain, maintain, and preserve public lands in a natural state as a foundation for hiking, birding, hunting, mountain biking and other quiet recreation pursuits. Be sure to look over the economic value of quiet recreation on BLM lands in Arizona!

Headwaters Economics Study
A study by Headwaters Economics released in early 2016 found that rural counties in the West with the highest proportion of protected federal lands had greater increases for population, employment and personal income. While every county has unique circumstances, the changing economy of the West has altered the role of nearby public lands. These reports make for great party chatter when you want to impress friends with the importance of protecting public lands!

Conservation in the West
The annual Conservation in the West poll found that nearly two-thirds of Arizonans oppose state take-over of public lands, and nearly three-fourths support creation of a national monument to preserve the Greater Grand Canyon Watershed. For more heartening news of what westerners really think about the environment, read the summary of data for Arizona and the "Politics of Conservation" report.

Where we were in 2015:

Letter to the Editor: Wildlife key to area tourism
One of the environment's best friends in the business community is Cochise Stronghold Retreat, nestled in the shadow of the spectacular rock formations of Cochise Stronghold in southeastern Arizona. The Sierra Vista Herald published a delightful article by Retreat owner Nancy Yates highlighting the importance of wildlife and the environment to the economy.

Conservation in the West
Colorado College State of the Rockies Project annually conducts a survey that measures residents’ views on a variety of topics. In 2015, SOR found that people move to Arizona for great quality of life, natural beauty and outdoor recreation. Read more!

The Golden Rush
Relocating retirees can be an important economic resource to western communities. These folks bring their investment and retirement income into a community, and need to purchase many services locally. This report examines the potential economic role of retirees who seek to relocate where there are protected public lands. Read more!

As we consider the many values of wilderness...

...we should include economic value in our thinking. Wilderness indeed is a place for solitude and recreation, a source for clean air and clean water, a haven for wildlife. Yet in many places wilderness can act as an economic driver, as well.

Arizona’s natural wonders draw millions of tourists to the state each year. And preserved natural areas are a big part of the attraction.

The National Park Service just released a report on the contributions of national parks to our nation’s economy. In Arizona, nearly 10 million national park visitors spend close to three-quarters of a billion dollars each year, to the benefit of the Arizona economy.

Arizona boasts an incredible array of protected lands, ranging from the world-class attraction of Grand Canyon National Park to lesser-known places like the Sonoran Desert National Monument. Wilderness within such areas appeals to a broad spectrum of travelers and residents alike.

Saguaro National Park (SNP) is a glowing example of the importance of wilderness areas to residents and tourists.

“This park is unique in the national park system. Saguaro’s 92,000 acres are 78% wilderness, and the Park is managed as wilderness. We’re also unique in that we sit adjacent to Tucson, a major metropolitan area with nearly one million residents,” explains Robert Newtson,  Executive Director of the Friends of Saguaro National Park.

Visitor statistics reflect how SNP serves both residents seeking respite in nature and tourists bringing dollars into the community. More than 90% of the 634,000 annual visits to Saguaro National Park were from outside the Tucson area, according to the recent National Park report.

The economic contributions of preserved natural lands grow from ecotourism, as well. The Grand Canyon draws visitors from all 50 states and 41 foreign countries, contributing hundreds of millions to the Arizona economy.

Wildlife, too, brings focused tourism - a recent study published by the Tucson Audubon Society found that, in 2011, visitors contributed more than $183 million to our state’s economy via watchable wildlife trips.

While the most important reasons to preserve wilderness are to ensure a wild natural legacy, the economic benefits show that wilderness makes “dollars and sense”, as well.


National Parks Economic Impacts of Visitation & Expenditures, June 2015, a tool provided by Headwaters Economics allowing you to search by National Park for it's economic effects.

2014 National Park Service Visitor Spending Effects, a report on parks’ economic contributions to local communities, states, and the nation.

Tucson Audubon Society report on wildlife watching economic benefits

Arizona Office of Tourism economic factsheet

-Arizona Wilderness Coalition mission statement