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George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist who has published 38 books.

President Obama should heed the call to expand Cascades Siskiyou National Monument. Expansion would protect some significant old growth forests, portions of functioning streams, and enhance the biodiversity value of the existing monument.

Opposition based on the presumed negative impacts of national monument designation on regional economies are groundless as a quick review of the history of national monuments demonstrates. Opponents to national monument expansion are looking backwards in a rear-view mirror of their economies. The future does not lie in expansion of logging, grazing or mining.

Teddy Roosevelt tried to get Congress to designate the Grand Canyon as a national park, but local politicians and rural residents who wanted to log, mine, and graze the area were opposed and thwarted all efforts.

Not content to let short-sighted and parochial interests preclude protection of the canyon, in 1908 Roosevelt wisely used the Antiquities Act to create an 800,000-acre Grand Canyon National Monument over local objections.

Time has proven the economic value of the park. Indeed, when the Republican Congress shut down the government in 1995 closing national parks, the state of Arizona offered to pay salaries to federal employees if the Park Service would reopen the park.

A similar hue and cry occurred when Jackson Hole National Monument (later to be renamed and designated as Grand Teton National Park) was established with local papers declaring that Jackson, at the foot of the Tetons, would soon be a “ghost town.”

Anyone who has been to Jackson lately, knows it is anything but a ghost town. It’s by far the most economically stable and viable community in Wyoming.

More recently in 1980 when Jimmy Carter established a number of national monuments in Alaska, including Kenai Fiords National Monument, Alaskans in Seward responded by burning the President in effigy. Today communities like Seward, Alaska have completely transformed themselves into a community that welcomes and loves the tourism created by the Kenai Fiords National Park.

Many of our best known and beloved national parks were originally designated national monuments by Presidential use of the Antiquities Act, including Death Valley, Arches, Glacier Bay, Bryce Canyon, Acadia, parts of Zion, and many others. These parks are major economic engines in their respective counties.

National monuments and other protected lands like designated wilderness provide more than employment in tourism related occupations. Rather they are a major of draw “footloose” individuals and businesses who can live and operate anyplace. People want to live near protected landscapes.

I’m a perfect example of this factor. I moved to Bend, in part because of the significant protected landscape surrounding the community, including Newberry Crater National Monument, Three Sisters Wilderness, Waldo Lake Wilderness, Mount Jefferson Wilderness and Badlands Wilderness, among others.

I moved here with my telecommuting job and my savings, and indeed plan to retire here. Though I derive my income from outside of Bend, I spend it locally and support the economy with my purchases and taxes.

I’m not unique. In many counties with large tracts of wilderness, parks and national monuments, the largest contribution to personal income typically comes from “transfer payments” and income derived from outside of the local region.

Economic research shows that counties with protected landscapes tend to have higher average incomes, and more stable economies than counties dominated by natural resource extraction like logging and grazing. (Go to Headwaters Economics for a review of some of these economic studies).

If you are interested in stimulating the local economy, there is no better and longer lasting way to do so than create and expand protected landscapes as with the proposal to enlarge Cascades Siskiyou National Monument.