Certain counties in Utah, faced with the prospect of massive federal wilderness lockups, commissioned a study to determine their potential economic losses. The study considered primary losses as well as losses to the multiplier effect as lost primary dollars fail to move through the secondary economy.
The study arrived at an estimated cumulative economic loss of some $13 billion annually if Wayne Owens has his way with 5.7 million acres of public land locked up.Some say the projection is conservative. Others, principally The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance say the figure is too high. But is it?
Consider that no commercial activity is allowed within federal wilderness. All natural-resource production and improved recreation that might occur within a wilderness are forbidden.
Current users have no guarantee of continued use. Congress recognized and condoned their expulsion when the House of Representatives stated as an "underlying principle" that "currently authorized uses that are incompatible with wilderness preservation should be phased out over a reasonable period of time."
Incompatible uses include mining, grazing and hunting. This means that ultimately all economic production from 26 percent of Utah's BLM lands will be prohibited by federal fiat.
Federal reservations also kill economies outside their boundaries. The Department of Interior declared that no one would ever be allowed to mine the rich coal deposits underlying 180,000 acres in the Alton coal fields. This decision also wiped out the immense economic potential on some 20,000 acres of school trust land interspersed within that federal land.
Coal mining generates $30,000 per year in jobs, high property tax revenues from expensive improvements, and a royalty of 12 percent of market value on every ton produced.
Why was this sacrifice of resource and future potential required? Because the coal field is visible from certain points within Bryce Canyon National park and the site of any improvements might have diminished the park visitors' experience. A similar situation occurred in October 1990 in California. A mine plan was denied in the California desert because the proposed access road would be visible from atop a promontory within an adjacent wilderness study area.
Honest analysis of economic costs of federal wilderness must consider the effect of de facto buffer zones extending as far outward as the eye can see or the ear can heard. Yet not one academic "study" to date has acknowledged or considered this reality. Only the county's study considers the de facto buffer zone effect.
Each individual federal reservation will have its own unrestricted de facto buffer zone enforced through subjective aesthetic judgments by federal bureaucrats. Owens lists 136 new and distinct wilderness areas in his HR1500. His 136 new federal power bases are scattered across rural Utah, effectively capturing any given part of Utah's BLM lands within the de facto buffer zone of one or many wilderness areas. Utah's school trust land estate of 3.8 million acres will be reduced to some 630,000 acres directly captured and 3.2 million acres captured in de facto buffer zones.
Owens' wilderness will also capture control of Utah's water resources. If mining can be prevented simply because it is within sight of a wilderness or park, so too will water developments be denied if there is a downstream wilderness whose flow regime may be altered.
The BLM's economic analysis cannot be relied upon to quantify losses due to federal wilderness. Official agency policy holds that there are "no buffer zones" around wilderness areas. Therefore, no economic impact from de facto buffer zones was ever considered. Official agency policy holds that there will be no impediment to water rights.
Official agency policy denies any adverse economic impact on school trust lands because they "can be traded" for lands elsewhere. The BLM analysis ignores the Alton experience and the fact that there is no place left to trade school trust lands into that won't be affected by de facto buffer zones.
The BLM also did not consider the newly discovered Precambian oil potential under eastern and southern Utah or the potential effects of heightened federal clean-air restrictions in federal reservations. The policies guiding the BLM economic analysis are similar in nature to the Department of Energy's policy relative to radiation victims in the '50s and '60s. "If it's not our policy, it doesn't happen - despite the obvious facts."
The bottom line figure in the county's economic analysis may be too high. It is, however, the only study conducted by the people's elected representatives and not by institutional "investigators" of questionable objectivity.
One thing is glaringly obvious. That is that The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, while screaming foul over the county's figure, have yet to come up with a figure of their own.
It is not good enough to merely condemn the findings of the county study. Detractors are obliged to offer their own estimate of loss from direct and de facto lockup of our public resource base and our school trust land estate.
How much do they think a federal lockup of Utah's energy, mineral and desert recreational resources will cost our communities, our schools and our children every year forevermore?