Comments by Dr. Steve Seninger, Economist
How have protected public lands like the Lolo Peak area contributed to economic growth in the Bitterroot and Missoula Valleys?
Area growth is stimulated by the attractiveness and quality of the area.
The Bitterroot and Missoula valleys are perceived as having high quality environment and amenities. Missoula is a city of more than 70,000 people located in a county of over 110,000 and the city serves as the regional center to a large surrounding population. This "Five Valleys" region can be seen as an interconnected regional community, with significant populations extending south from the Missoula valley south into the Bitterroot valley and north into the Flathead Valley. The city and surrounding smaller communities are located in valleys surrounded by foothills and mountains and large concentrations of public lands, including Forest Service national forest lands and wilderness areas. There are currently six ski areas within a 100-mile drive of Missoula.
How do wild public lands and wilderness areas contribute to a community’s economy?
Wild public lands represent highly-valued amenities. Open lands, mountains, forest lands, free-flowing streams, and similar amenities help support a high quality of life for area residents and have become "magnets" to new migrants in the region. They have become key economic assets.
Public lands help move a communities toward a broader economic base attracting new businesses that are more human resource based rather than natural resource based—businesses like financial services, health care, financial services, and, in some cases, information technology based businesses and professionals.
What role do public lands play in a community’s economic development?
Public lands contribute to a human-resource based economy. In the new economy, a quality environment is a key economic asset. Protecting and enhancing environmental qualities is not the enemy of economic development. It is essential for economic prosperity. The larger Rocky Mountain West region – Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado – is one of the fastest growing regions in North America. Communities in this region with quality businesses and quality workers will likewise grow and prosper. When people are asked why they are moving to these areas, they say "for the quality of life, the open lands and the natural environment".