Friday, December 11, 2015

Guest Opinion: Protecting wild places creates economic boon

Whitebark pine snag on the rim of Crater Lake.

I wanted to share this Guest Opinion from the Medford Mail Tribune newspaper, written so succinctly by George Wuerthner. In it he responds to the following article regarding the Jackson County commissioners passing a resolution opposing the Crater Lake Wilderness. 

The proposed Crater Lake Wilderness is a 90 mile chain of roadless wildlands extending from Diamond Peak to Mt. McLaughlin. The proposal would expand three existing wilderness areas and provide further protections to backcountry areas in Crater Lake National Park. The Crater Lake Wilderness proposal would protect 500,000 acres in Oregon's Southern Cascade Mountains, creating a world-class recreational resource and conservation area. The proposal should be supported; it should also provide inspiration for similar efforts in the Siskiyou Mountains.

Overlooking the Crater Lake Wilderness

By George Wuerthner
December 08. 2015 12:01AM
Medford Mail Tribune, Oregon

Guest Opinion: Protecting wild places creates economic boon

Recently the Jackson County commissioners passed a resolution opposing the Crater Lake Wilderness supported by Oregon Wild, in part, based upon the presumed negative impacts on the local economy. Unfortunately most people see their economies in the rear view mirror. In the case of Jackson County, many folks long for the days when timber was the main economic driver and hope it can be revived.

Bend, where I live, once celebrated its timber industry. But the timber companies overcut and left town, forcing Bend to consider other ways for people to make a living. By focusing on and celebrating its natural attributes, including its surrounding wildlands, Bend transformed itself. It now is one of the most sought-after places to live in the West, with a diversified economy, in part, because of the close proximity to protected wilderness and natural landscapes.

Given Jackson County’s proximity to wild country, a similar transformation is possible — if people only have the vision to look forward instead of backward. Any reading of conservation history demonstrates that protecting land as parks and/or wilderness ultimately proves to be advantageous to local/regional economies. Numerous studies back up my assertions (check out Headwaters Economics — — for references).

History is full of examples how wrong the local people were about the economic impacts of protecting lands. Starting with Yellowstone National Park in 1872, local papers in Bozeman, Mont., and elsewhere expressed opposition to the park and the "lock up" of resources. However, for more than a 143 years Yellowstone has been creating employment and supporting the area's economies — and has been much more stable for the economy than the mining, logging and other resource extraction that park creation precluded.

Looking north from Crater Lake, across the Crater Lake Wilderness, to the sharp summit of Mt. Thielsen in the Mt. Thielsen Wilderness.
Today Bozeman bills itself as a gateway to Yellowstone, is considered one of the most desirable communities for business relocation and retirement due to perceived high quality of life attributes, which in part are due to its proximity to the park.

When Grand Teton National Park was created, locals predicted Jackson would become a ghost town. Some 18,000 ghosts live there today — all in one way or another there because of the park and surrounding wild areas.

Even more recently, after President Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, locals predicted the demise of their communities. Here are some recent quotes from Dennis Waggoner, president of the Escalante Chamber of Commerce, in response to an article claiming that the monument was “stifling” the community’s economy.

"I don't believe the town of Escalante is being stifled at all. To the contrary, the monument is a major reason why our town is thriving."

He goes on to note:
"There are many other examples of expansion in the town of Escalante. During the last five years, a new medical clinic has opened with pharmacy and dental services. We are all proud of the new hardware store and home center. Structures along Main Street are being renovated and are open for business. New construction is prevalent, and there is difficulty getting contractors (i.e. plumbers, electricians, roofers, etc.) because of the number of new and renovated projects."

The experience of Escalante has been repeated dozens of times around the West. What are known as “footloose” entrepreneurs and individuals flock to communities near protected landscapes: parks, national monuments and wilderness areas. They bring their businesses or their savings.

If people in Jackson County are opposed to economic growth and stability, they should continue to resist the Crater Lake Wilderness proposal. However, if creating new economic opportunities for you and your children, as well as attracting new talent to your communities is a goal, then one should think about supporting the Crater Lake Wilderness proposal.

George Wuerthner has published 38 books, including several on national parks and wilderness. He lives in Bend.

During the winter months, snow covers the Crater Lake Rim Road and the entire park becomes wilderness, open only to non-mechanized travel.

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December 02. 2015 5:01PM

Jackson County Commissioners oppose Crater Lake wilderness proposal

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners is voicing its opposition to a proposed Crater Lake Wilderness Area.

Commissioners Rick Dyer and Colleen Roberts voted Wednesday to proclaim their strong opposition to a proposal to designate a Crater Lake Wilderness Area encompassing Crater Lake National Park and surrounding U.S. Forest Service lands in the Umpqua and Rogue River national forests.

Commissioner Doug Breidenthal, who has been criticized for missing at least 30 commissioners' meetings so far this year, was on a trip to Colorado for a National Association of Counties meeting. Dyer said Breidenthal also supports the proclamation.

Commissioners cited a list of concerns, including increased wildfire risks and a wilderness area ban on the use of motorized vehicles.

In 2009, several environmental groups proposed a new 500,000-acre wilderness area that would include the national park. It would connect the existing wilderness areas around Diamond Peak, Mount Thielsen and Mount McLoughlin, creating a 90-mile swath of new wilderness stretching from north to south.

The wilderness area would surround the west and east sides of Diamond Lake, according to a map by Oregon Wild, one of the groups supporting the proposal.

In a proclamation, commissioners said "much of the area is a high-use recreational area around Diamond Lake and Crater Lake for summer and winter activities, nearly all centered around motorized uses."

Motorized vehicles, as well as bicycles, cannot be used inside wilderness areas.

"Public lands can be utilized responsibly by motor-sport users," said Dyer.

According to Oregon Wild, a wilderness area designation would not affect access roads and the Crater Lake Rim Road used by the public. It would affect backcountry routes and areas.

Dyer said commissioners are also concerned Crater Lake National Park's let-it-burn wildfire policy could be extended throughout the proposed wilderness area. Wildfire could escape a wilderness area boundary.

"We're concerned about the let-it-burn policy and the potential for uncontained wildfire and its effect on land around it," he said.

The proclamation cites potential wildfire danger to cabins, lodges and campgrounds in the area. It also notes wildfire smoke from the Diamond Lake area could negatively impact air quality in the Rogue Valley.

Crater Lake National Park has a policy to let wildfires burn during most years if they don't threaten buildings, homes and public-use areas.

Earlier this year, park officials announced a temporary policy change to suppress all fires because of record low snowfall last winter. Firefighters battled the lightning-sparked National Creek Complex fires during the summer. The two fires burned nearly 21,000 acres total in the northwest corner of the national park and in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Oregon Wild Communications Associate Arran Robertson said the area around Crater Lake is important habitat for deer and elk, which are disturbed by motorized vehicles. He said Oregon Wild has reached out to snowmobile clubs to try and discuss the issue.

Robertson said environmental groups also have reached out to mountain bikers and are willing to adjust the boundaries of their wilderness area proposal to avoid impacts on biking routes.

As for wildfire, Robertson said fires have been suppressed by humans for more than a century, leading to overgrown forests and increased wildfire activity.

"We don't have the resources to continue to write a blank check for firefighting every year," he said, referring to the soaring cost to fight wildfires in the West.

Allowing wildfires to burn naturally would help forests return to a natural state in which fire regularly burned through areas, he said.

Robertson said people who build structures in fire-prone areas need to be able to accept wildfire risk.

He said the timber industry wrote language opposing the wilderness area designation and is passing it around to elected officials.

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution in late November opposing the designation. The Klamath County Board of Commissioners took a similar action Tuesday.

Robertson said the moves are being orchestrated by the timber industry.

Douglas Timber Operators Executive Director Bob Ragon presented a resolution against the wilderness designation to commissioners in Douglas County at their meeting in late November. He said at the time Jackson, Josephine and Klamath County officials also would be asked to sign the resolution, according to news accounts.

Ragon said snowmobile clubs and businesses had signed the resolution as well.

No one gave a presentation about the anti-wilderness area proclamation at the Jackson County commissioners meeting Wednesday.

Dyer said he didn't know the genesis of the proclamation, other than the issue was brought forward by Breidenthal.

"This is something brought to our board's attention recently," Dyer said.

Robertson said the environmental groups have collected 31,000 signatures in support of the designation and submitted those to U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

He said 200 business and organizations also have signed on in support of the designation.

Environmental groups supporting the designation include the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, Umpqua Watersheds, Crater Lake Institute and Environment Oregon, according to Oregon Wild.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or Follow her at

PCT thru-hiker enjoying the view.

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