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"Wild Lands" = CO Economic Benefits

February 4, 2011

TELLURIDE, Colo. - From Durango to Commerce City, lawmakers across Colorado are cheering the new "wild lands" policy announced recently by the Bureau of Land Management. Seventy state and local leaders sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Thursday supporting the revised policy, which streamlines wilderness protections.

Art Goodtimes is a San Miguel County commissioner. He says a healthy ecological system equals a healthy economy.

"The scenic vistas, the ability to hike and fish and hunt in wilderness areas, are critical to our tourist economy in Telluride. Most of the people in the summer who come to Telluride come because of the wild beauty that's all around us."

The wild lands policy allows the BLM to closely confer with citizens and local communities in identifying backcountry lands that could benefit from enhanced protections.

According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, activities that take advantage of wild areas, such as hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing or camping, are a huge economic engine in the United States - to the tune of nearly 6.5 million jobs and more than $700 billion in the economy every year.

Costilla County commissioner Crestina Martinez says even though there are few federal lands in her county, her constituents still reap the benefits.

"We see folks driving through our communities, stopping at our gas stations, eating in our restaurants and hopefully visiting our tourist sites as well, while they're in route to visit public lands."

The wild lands policy allows for a variety of land uses, but prevents drilling or other invasive actions. Goodtimes says that sort of flexibility benefits his community.

"Having the ability to have lower-elevation wild lands that draw people to our area - without that, we don't have an economy in Telluride."

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO