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BOON OR BUST? STUDIES FAIL TO SETTLE THE ISSUE

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Opponents of wilderness say it would harm Utah's economy. Proponents say it would benefit the economy.

That's easy for them to say. What about the studies?Same thing. Various types of research over the years indicate that the question of wilderness vs. economy remains up in the air.

Not in the minds of the wilderness foes and friends, however.

"Utah wilderness is an incredible opportunity," says Ken Rait of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "It is not a liability. I think big wilderness is the biggest economic and planning asset in Utah."

Mark Walsh, director of the Utah Association of Counties couldn't disagree more.

"The debate is strictly on protection," Walsh says. "It has nothing to do with community economic enhancement or multiple use. We're now down to a preservationist policy: protect these lands and it doesn't matter what the economic cost is or isn't."

The following is a quick summary of reports that have explored the economic impacts of wilderness:

The Leaming report

Hired by the Utah Association of Counties, George F. Leaming, of the Arizona-based Western Economic Analysis Center, released a report in March 1990.

It concluded that designating nearly 5 million acres of public land in Utah as wilderness would cost the state's economy $13.2 billion a year.

Leaming was strongly criticized by the General Accounting Office, state economists and some of his peers, including Brigham Young University professor Arden Pope, who stated, "At best, it is poor research, poorly reported."

The association of counties, however, continues to stand by the Leaming report, Walsh says.

The Pope report

In 1990, Pope published an article titled "The Value of Wilderness Designation in Utah" in the Journal of Environmental Man-age-ment.

While the report showed positive benefits to wilderness, it failed to quantify any of the costs.

Environmentalists, however, hail the report, which also found broad-based public support for wilderness.

The OPB report

In 1991, the state Office of Planning and Budget prepared a draft report titled the "Economic Analysis of Wilderness Designation in Utah." The report was never finalized or released publicly, but Rait obtained it last year through a freedom-of-information request.

Under the "positive impact scenario," the report found that wilderness would create 600 new jobs and increase annual personal income by $15 million, mainly because of increases in tourism.

The "negative impact scenario" predicted the loss of 1,700 jobs and $67 million in annual income.

The USU report

In January 1992, an interdisciplinary team of USU researchers set out to explore the economics of wilderness. A draft copy of their report, titled "Potential Economic Impacts of Wilderness Designation," was released in November.

The report predicts little impact on grazing, some negative impacts on mining in rural areas, and minimal positive impacts on tourism.

Like the OPB report, the USU report admits that predicting economic impacts of wilderness is difficult because of uncertainties about how the lands will actually be managed; what the mineral resources in the wilderness areas are; and how grazing reform will affect the livestock industry on public lands in general.

Given the stalemate in the economics arena, the debate over wilderness may come down to one of philosophy.