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A contentious Farm Bill heads to U.S. House for debate. Also on our rundown: gaps cited in protections for small-business employees and nonprofit volunteers; plus power out for much of Puerto Rico; and some warning signs, that increased youth activism may not correspond to voter turnout.

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Economists to President: Protecting Public Lands is Good Business

December 6, 2011

MILL VALLEY, Calif. - Investing in California's federally-protected public lands is good for business. That's what more than 100 economists and academics from across the nation, including 11 from California, are hoping to impress upon President Obama. They've sent a letter urging him to consider the importance of wilderness areas, national parks and monuments to the economic future of the West.

Bob Roberts, president and CEO of the California Ski Industry Association, says protecting these lands is vital in a state where tourism is the third largest industry, behind agriculture and technology.

"We create jobs, and I'm talking not just about the Sierra, but the Sierra's emblematic of the larger tourism dimension to our state's economy. So, it's not just the ski areas – it's the whitewater rafters, it's all of the various activities that go on, from one end of the state to the other."

Twenty-five of California's 29 ski resorts operate under lease agreements with the federal government. California's rivers, lakes and mountains have helped transform the western economy from a dependence on resource-extractive industries, adds Roberts.

"Timber, mining - these kinds of activities have declined substantially and they're really not the future, in terms of the economic vitality of all of the communities."

Colorado College economics professor Dr. Walt Hecox signed the letter. He says his biggest worry is the discussion in Congress that federal lands could be sold to pay off the nation's debt.

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

The letter, which includes the signatures of three Nobel laureates, says federal protected public lands also attract innovative companies and workers, and are an essential component of the region's competitive advantage. Read it at

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA