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for people who care about the West

It's cultural, not rational


It's hard to see rural opposition to public-land protection as anything more than a front on the great American culture war (HCN, 4/26/10). To hear, again, the opposition of San Juan County, Utah, commissioners to new national monuments or to wilderness designations confounds economic rationality.

National parks and monuments are big drivers of economic activity in rural areas. The National Park Service brand draws people from all over the world, and visitation means jobs and taxes paid. In northern New Mexico, a current effort to have the National Park Service assume management of the privately managed Valles Caldera National Preserve has been strongly endorsed by a local county council and chamber of commerce because a new Park Service unit will mean visitors and sales taxes.

In contrast, the 19th century public-land uses like cattle grazing translate into trivial economic activity, require federal subsidies to happen at all, and are destructive to natural resources in a way that repels visitors. Off-road vehicles are anathema to conservation values, and their users pay no fees and offer little for local business. Thus it seems San Juan County Commission's fear of new parks, wilderness and monuments may be more a fear of the "elites" who enjoy and promote such landscapes rather than a sense of what is really good for their local economy.

Tom Ribe
Santa Fe, New Mexico