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Report highlights economic value of Utah's federal lands

Published: Monday, July 9 2012 2:11 p.m. MDT

The Interior Department said the latest numbers available show that visitors spent more than $105 million in the Moab area, supporting 1,650 jobs.

PBS

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SALT LAKE CITY — A new report shows the wide range of economic impact to Utah's economy from Department of Interior-managed lands, with nearly $14 million that was infused in the last fiscal year.

That impact, detailed Monday, includes 83,292 jobs in fields ranging from energy and mineral development to tourism and outdoor recreation.

Of those Utah jobs, close to 22,000 are directly from the oil and gas fields and more than 950 come from coal mining-related activities.

Nationwide, the activities of the Interior Department contributed $385 billion to the U.S. economy and supported more than 2 million jobs in 2011, according to the report.

“The Interior Department has a uniquely diverse mission that benefits the American people by promoting tourism, outdoor recreation, energy development and other economic activities that fuel local economies in Utah,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “This report underscores that there are real, lasting impacts on communities and small businesses across the country where Interior is helping to strengthen economies and support families.”

Visits to Utah's national parks and monuments reached nearly 21 million for the year. The Interior Department said the latest numbers available show that visitors spent more than $105 million in the Moab area, supporting 1,650 jobs.

Overall, Americans and foreign visitors made nearly 435 million visits to Interior-managed lands. These visits supported more than 403,000 jobs and contributed about $48.7 billion in economic activity, the new analysis says.

Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — a branch of the Interior Department — Utah's wildlife refuges saw more than 42,000 visitors last year who spent an average of nearly $70 during their visit.

Some groups, however, reacted with criticism of the report. A regional association representing the oil and gas industry said Salazar underplayed that sector's contribution.

"By lumping all energy sources together in the Executive Summary and throughout the document, the true contribution of the oil and natural gas industry is not readily apparent,” said Kathleen Sgamma, a spokeswoman for the Western Energy Alliance.

“By analyzing the numbers, it’s apparent that the oil and natural gas industry provides $238.5 billion and 1.3 million jobs, or 62 percent of the total economic value and 56 percent of the jobs that the Department of the Interior claims in its report. This is not value generated by the government – it’s the result of private sector investment, technical innovation, and productive activity on public lands.”

The report, "The Department of the Interior’s Economic Contributions," highlights the broad range of activities managed by the federal agency — activities that evoke controversy, pit competing interests against each other and are the stage of many a political fight, especially in the West.

Such diversity includes the need to manage public lands for "protection" in the face of demand for natural resources and livestock grazing policies that environmentalists contend in many cases compromise natural habitat for wildlife.

While a smaller part of Utah's economy than some of its neighbors in the Intermountain West, the grazing and timber industry created nearly 1,260 direct jobs in state in 2011 and, overall, supported 1,650 jobs.

"Timber and grazing activities support small and family-owned businesses and enterprises," the report said.

The economic activity and employment supported by cattle and sheep using BLM rangeland represents a small but important share of the total value of the sheep and cattle sector in the Western states, according to the report.

For the period tracked in the report, forage on Bureau of Land Management land in Nevada accounted for 37 pecent of the sales value of Nevada's livestock production, followed by Utah's at 18.6 percent.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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