The Economic Costs of Wilderness


April 16, 2013



Environmental Trends – Issue 1 June 2011


Brian C. Steed, Ryan M. Yonk, and Randy Simmons
Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, Utah State University

Wilderness is one of the most contentious issues in American public lands management. Local officials often bemoan Wilderness designations as creating economic hardships by limiting extractive industries, outdoor recreation, and the siting of transportation corridors, water and power lines, and telecommunication facilities. In direct contrast, many environmentalists allege that Wilderness creates economic benefits for local communities through increasing property values and from benefitting the tourism industry. This study explores the economic claims by examining empirical evidence of identifiable differences in the economic conditions of Wilderness and Non-Wilderness Counties.

Some Wilderness can have positive economic impacts but our findings indicate that this is not the general rule. We find that when controlling for other types of federally held land and additional factors impacting economic conditions, federally designated Wilderness negatively impacts local economic conditions. Specifically, we find a significant negative relationship between the presence of Wilderness and county total payroll, county tax receipts, and county average household income. By working together with local communities to address their concerns, environmentalists can help develop balanced policy that genuinely acknowledges the local economic costs associated with Wilderness.

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