As the Trump Administration makes it easier for oil and gas companies to lease and develop federal lands, conservation advocates have released a report valuing acreage managed by the Bureau of Land Management for wildlife-recreational purposes.
According to a report by Southwick Associates, BLM lands in 11 western states and Alaska support 26,500 jobs, generate more than $1 billion in salaries and wages, and produce more than $421 million in federal, state and local tax revenue — which added up is more than $3.3 billion.
In Montana that translates to more than 3,900 jobs, $134 million in salaries and wages, and $18 million in state and local taxes, the study calculated, or a total of $448 million including federal taxes and the contribution to the regional economy from hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing on BLM lands. In Wyoming the figures are almost 2,700 jobs, more than $88 million in salaries and wages, and $23.5 million in state and local taxes, or a total of $330 million.
“These findings confirm what many of us have known all along: BLM public lands are critically important for public hunting and fishing in America, and these activities are good for businesses and local communities alike,” said Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, in a press release. “This report should be a foundational resource as decision-makers consider the economic effects of wildlife habitat conservation on BLM public lands.”
In Montana, BLM lands are prized by hunters for providing access to antelope and mule deer habitat, as well as upland game like sharp-tailed grouse and wild turkeys. The BLM’s Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is home to trophy elk and bighorn sheep.
In comparison to the Southwick numbers, in 2017 the BLM calculated its total recreational economic output in Montana — of which wildlife-related would be only one part — at $290 million and supporting more than 28,000 jobs, according to Al Nash, chief of communications for the Montana-Dakotas BLM office.
“We talk about hosting nearly 4.5 million public visits on sites in Montana and the Dakotas,” he said. “That’s a lot of people on a lot of public land.”
That public land also includes 60,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs serviced by 32 boat launches.
“We have such varied lands and so many different recreational opportunities across those landscapes,” Nash said. “If you have an interest we probably have a place.”
The Southwick figures are the latest from many recent studies to break out recreation’s value to the economy as conservation and outdoor groups, tourism-related businesses and even state governments have stressed the value of public lands and the money that people recreating on them generate.
In 2017, the Outdoor Industry Association calculated Montana’s total outdoor recreation economy at $7.1 billion in consumer spending, $2.2 billion in wages and salaries and 71,000 direct jobs, numbers often quoted by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
The values have been calculated as groups of western Republicans have advocated returning federal lands to the states to manage. One of those advocates, Montana auditor Matt Rosendale, has recently recanted his support for such a turnover as he’s challenged Sen. Jon Tester for one of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats.
Nationally, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis recently published a report showing that “the outdoor recreation economy accounted for 2.2 percent ($412 billion) of current-dollar (gross domestic product) in 2016 … In addition, real gross output, compensation, and employment all grew faster in outdoor recreation than in the overall economy in 2016.”
In comparison, the BEA ranked oil and gas extraction at .9 percent of GDP in 2016 and other mining at .3 percent. Support activities for mining came in at .2 percent of GDP.
In 2016 “oil and gas development on BLM-managed lands supported 201,000 jobs nationwide and contributed more than $42 billion in output to the U.S. economy,” according to the BLM.
The BLM is a big stakeholder in Montana, managing about 8 million acres or 26 percent of the state’s entire acreage. In Wyoming that figure is much higher, 18.4 million acres of BLM land, which is almost one-third of the entire state. Nationwide, the BLM manages about 30 percent of U.S. minerals.
A portion of the BLM lands in Montana are protected as wilderness study areas. In March, Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., introduced his Unlocking Public Lands Act in Congress which proposes releasing 240,000 acres of BLM wilderness study areas in Montana from protection along with another 450,000 acres of Forest Service WSAs in the state. The bill has not yet been assigned to a committee.
Gianforte’s proposal has drawn support from some Republican county commissioners and motorized recreationists while conservation advocates have denounced Gianforte for not holding public meetings prior to or since introducing the bill.
Southwick Associates’ report, titled “Quantifying the Economic Contributions of Wildlife-Related Recreation on BLM Lands,” was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Wildlife Management Institute, Trout Unlimited, Archery Trade Association, and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. The analysis looked at data for BLM-managed lands in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Southwick based its “calculations on 2016 visitation data from the BLM and spending data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation.”