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Study: Public Lands Help Drive Rural Economies

The Juniper Dunes Wilderness in northeast Washington is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. (BLM)
The Juniper Dunes Wilderness in northeast Washington is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. (BLM)
April 1, 2016

SEATTLE - "Quiet" or non-motorized recreation on lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management is boosting rural economies, according to a new study.

According to ECONorthwest, visitors to BLM lands in 2014 generated nearly $3 billion for the U.S. economy, and nearly $2 billion for local economies in 12 states. Ken Rait, director of the Public Lands Program at Pew Charitable Trusts, which commissioned the study, said activity on BLM lands has had a surprising impact on rural communities.

"In many ways," he said, "the Bureau of Land Management lands are the goose that laid the golden egg for rural western economies."

Quiet recreation is considered any activity that doesn't involve a motorized vehicle, such as hiking, fishing and hunting. These activities generated nearly 25,000 jobs nationally, according to the study.

In Washington, the study said, nearly a half-million recreation-seekers spent $18 million in local communities within 50 miles of BLM lands. Rait said that's a new development for public lands.

"BLM lands have historically been viewed as treasure troves for those who wanted to drill, mine or graze their natural resources," he said, "and it's only, really, in the last decade or so that a different kind of treasure has been discovered on BLM lands - those of conservation and recreational values."

ECONorthwest's study is the first of its kind to quantify the economic impact of quiet recreation on BLM lands.

Washington state Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said public lands are vital to the state's economy and provide a great opportunity for people to get outside - and for tourists to come back.

"The more people get out and go fishing or go hunting or go backpacking," he said, "the more they want to do it again."

The study is online at pewtrusts.org.

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Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA