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Economists: Public Land Means Jobs, Vitality for CO, West

December 1, 2011

DENVER - "Protect public lands to grow the economy." That's the message from dozens of economists and professors who sent a letter to President Obama on Wednesday. It says protected public lands are an economic boost to western states like Colorado - not only for creating recreation industry jobs, but for attracting innovative companies and employees.

Dr. Ray Rasker with Headwater Economics organized the letter and its signers.

"If you have a community that is surrounded by spectacular landscapes, wilderness areas and parks, companies can move to those areas. One of the things we're seeing is that's how they are recruiting really talented employees."

The letter - which includes the signatures of three Nobel laureates - asks the President to invest in improving public lands and establish new wilderness areas, national parks and monuments. It says research shows that quality of life has become a competitive strength for the West and a significant contributor to economic growth.

Some lawmakers and free-market think tanks, including the Cascade Policy Institute, have suggested selling off public land to help solve federal budget problems. However, Colorado College professor Walt Hecox believes that would be the worst possible option.

"It'd be like having a discussion about selling off the Washington Monument because it doesn't make money. If we don't, in the West, begin to be active and raise these concerns that public lands are the very foundation of a vibrant economy, then I fear that we will lose in Congress."

Randi Swisher, president of the American Fly-Fishing Trade Association, says public lands support not only outdoor recreation, but also businesses creating products like lures and boats.

"We have a lot of businesses that rely on the public lands and the conservation of fly-fishing waters to enjoy the sport and to keep the industry ticking in the right direction."

The letter and report are at

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO