What Is The Cost Of Wilderness?   Updated 11/1/2013


There is a cost for everything and Wilderness is no exception.

A recently released Forest Service study found that designated Wilderness have increased Bark Beetle infestations and larger fires than non Wilderness areas due to prohibition of management on Wilderness lands.
Indicating Wilderness negatively effects forest health (Read the 2011 Report here)

Land uses previously allowed, such as most forms of recreation, will be prohibited in Wilderness. The associated income from those land uses along with the recreation opportunity will be lost to the community and the public who owns these lands.

In the past Wilderness advocates have claimed designating Wilderness improves local economies. A recent study by the Utah State University found in most cases this was not true.

The study found designating Wilderness in most cases caused a net reduction in household income, payrolls and taxes in local 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.”

Table 1: The Economic Impact of Wilderness

Measure of Economic Condition

Economic Impact

Average Household Income


Total Payroll


County Tax Receipts


“These results indicate that Wilderness impacts both households and counties. Average household income within Wilderness Counties is estimated to be $1,446.06 less than Non-Wilderness Counties. Total payroll in Wilderness Counties is also estimated to be $37,500 less than in Non-Wilderness Counties. County Tax Receipts in Wilderness Counties is estimated to be $92,910 dollars less than in Non-Wilderness Counties.”

Utah State University Study-

As Wilderness areas encroach more and more on communities there is also a real conflict with green energy. Wilderness areas prohibit all mechanized and man made structures including wind and solar energy. The loss of green energy opportunity has been overlooked in the Wilderness debate.

The 43 million acres of lands found unsuitable for Wilderness which HR1581 seeks to release are the least desirable lands, otherwise they would have been designated as Wilderness already and they would not have been found unsuitable. If these unsuitable lands are designated Wilderness they most certainly will not be crown jewels and will be another example of harming rural economies.

Wilderness has been sold to the public as being a Win-Win, but clearly it is far more complex. The costs are often paid by the local community, while the benefits if any are enjoyed by other areas.

For example people buy a backpack at REI in Los Angeles to go to the Sequoia or Kings Canyon Wilderness. They come equipped and rarely buy anything in the local community, although they will use local services without paying for them such as search and rescue, roads, trails, restrooms and other facilities.

Rural communities and the public should consider the true Cost of Wilderness before supporting any further designations.

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