The Associated Press published an article discussing a recent study of tourism in Utah that was released by the Utah Division of Travel Development. The article makes several observations that warrant a response for the sake of balance and perspective.
The report concludes that "travel tourism and recreation exceed the total economic contribution to the state's gross domestic product of mining and agriculture."It is wonderful that travel, tourism and recreation are making contributions to the state's economy, but unfortunately, this kind of observation is used by extremists, particularly environmental extremists, as a "justification" for arguing that mining and agriculture are "dead" and that we should do away with these industries while dedicating our land to recreation.
But there is more to the story. For example, while tourism is the leading employer in Grand County, making tourism look like a glamorous panacea for local economic struggles, the majority of Grand County's tax revenue comes from the oil and gas fields in the north end of the county. Thus, while the masses of tourists in Moab and the southern end of Grand County give the appearance of a healthy economy, these people actually represent public costs (law enforcement, waste disposal, etc.) that are being subsidized by the natural resource-based industries that remain in the un-peopled north of the county.
The report also has an interesting finding bearing on the federal wilderness designation debate. It was concluded that the average tourist spends $60 per day, and those who spend "less than $31 per day do not cover their own costs in such public services as garbage collection, sewage disposal, water, public safety and search and rescue." Wilderness advocates want more than 6 million acres of public land, more than 10 percent of the state, dedicated by law to wilderness recreation. A 1995 survey of wilderness users conducted by Utah State University determined that the average wilderness recreator spends between $4 and $16 per day with the maximum being $40 per day. In other words, wilderness not only locks up our public lands for the recreational benefit of a few, it costs us money besides. The general public and particularly local communities wind up subsidizing the wilderness enthusiast.
Finally, while the report indicates that recreation employs some 73,000 persons it must not be forgotten that many of these persons are seasonally employed with minimal if any benefits and at wages at or near the minimum wage while miners earn year-round wages averaging around $20 per hour with full benefits.
Lilly Mae Noorlander