A group of business leaders from five western states met in U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s home state on Wednesday to discuss the economic impact to outdoor-oriented businesses of shrinking or rescinding national monuments.
In April, President Donald Trump ordered a review of any national monument created since Jan. 1, 1996, that spans at least 100,000 acres. Zinke, a native of Whitefish, is expected to recommend this month whether any changes should be made to 22 national monuments. The Trump administration announced the review amid efforts to spur natural resource development on federal lands and challenge a number of Obama-era environmental regulations.
National monuments have become a major focus in the debate about public land management, with conservation and outdoor recreation groups lauding monument designations but also drawing accusations of federal overreach stifling oil and gas jobs by industry and many elected officials.
Business for Montana’s Outdoors and the Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance co-hosted two Western Businesses for National Monuments roundtable discussions in Helena and Great Falls. Participants included restaurant owners, brewery owners, outdoor gear manufacturers, expedition guides and representatives of local chambers of commerce.
The business leaders said they would be affected by the loss or reduction of eight monuments: Rio Grande Del Norte, Upper Missouri River Breaks, Grand Staircase Escalante, Basin and Range, Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, Canyons of the Ancient and Organ Mountains Desert Peaks.
Zinke already announced that he will recommend no changes to five national monuments, including Canyons of the Ancient and the Upper Missouri River Breaks.
“There are still 22 monuments that are in the crosshairs,” Marne Hayes, executive director of Business for Montana’s Outdoors, said. “The decision to remove or change these monuments are very threatening to small businesses and the communities that rely on them for their economies.”
Hayes said even though certain monuments are safe, the review process kept small businesses from investing more in the community or hiring new talent.
Many of the businesses said they would be unable to survive without the monuments, which have boosted economic output in the surrounding areas of all eight monuments since their designation.
The five states benefit from an outdoor economy supporting more than 1 million jobs, $150 billion in consumer spending, $50 billion in wages and salaries and $10 billion in state and local tax revenue.
Since the Upper Missouri River Breaks was designated as a national monument, 139,000 people have visited each year, and non-residents have contributed $10 million in consumer spending.
Suzanne and Joseph Catlett, owner of NEMO’s Drive Thru in Escalante, Utah, said Grand Staircase Escalante was designated at a crucial time. Other industries were declining, but the small town of 850 people has experienced a 20-year outdoor recreation boom. This year, NEMO’s Drive Thru served a record number of patrons.
Jobs have increased by 24 percent in the region and people have experienced a 32 percent increase in personal income. Joseph Catlett said Zinke’s visit to Utah focused on politicians, instead of business owners.
“When (Zinke) visited our monument he didn’t meet with one single business owner,” he said. “We’re here today to tell that what’s really happening is an attempt to transfer public wealth to the private sector.”
Kevin Timm, who started Seek Outside with his wife to manufacture backcountry gear, said his business wouldn’t exist without public lands.
“We produce and manufacture gear intended for a more remote wilderness style experience. It’s not really designed around a KOA or that style of camping,” he said. “It’s meant for the public land experience.”
Other efforts to encourage Zinke to protect the monuments are underway in the state. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers launched a $1.4 million ad campaign from Montana last week. The ad reminds Zinke of his praise and self-comparisons to conservationists like President Theodore Roosevelt.
“Zinke’s national monument review threatens our heritage and thousands of jobs,” the ad says. “Mr. Secretary, don’t turn your back on Roosevelt now.”