Mount St. Helens anniversary highlights conservative conservationism

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WASHINGTON (Aug. 27, 2013) – Today’s anniversary marking the establishment by President Ronald Reagan of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument should underscore to elected leaders the economic development potential of federal conservation efforts, the R Street Institute said.

Dedicated by President Reagan on Aug. 27, 1982, the monument marks where the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens laid waste to a 230-square-mile area of southeastern Washington state in a matter of seconds. Today, it draws about 230,000 visitors to its 110,000-acre reserve within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

R Street Associate Fellow Ryan Cooper pointed to research from the Headwaters Economics showing that since the monument’s establishment, the surrounding region has seen population grow by 30 percent, real personal income has grown by 62 percent, total jobs have grown by 42 percent and real per-capita income grew by 24 percent. Headwaters’ data suggests that in many cases, employers have explicitly chosen the area for its beauty, a major drawing point for highly skilled employees.

“As the United States has shifted from a manufacturing-based to a service-based economy, it’s only natural that service jobs will spring up in communities with high-grade attractions,” Cooper said.

The success conservation efforts have had in attracting firms and workers and creating opportunities for tourism and other services is one reason they have enjoyed support, not only from the left, but also from the political right. Nearly 10 percent of the current National Wilderness Preservation System was established during the Reagan administration, including El Pais in New Mexico, Hagerman Fossil Beds in Idaho and Poverty Point in Louisiana.

In fact, during his presidency, Reagan permanently protected five times as many acres of federal land as President Barack Obama has thus far.  A November 2011 letter to Obama from more than 100 economists – including Nobel laureates Kenneth Arrow, Robert Solow and Joseph Stiglitz – urged that he “create jobs and support businesses by investing in our public lands infrastructure and establishing new protected areas such as parks, wilderness and monuments.”

R Street President Eli Lehrer added that the success of the Mount St. Helens memorial also demonstrates the success of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a 48-year-old program that reinvests $900 million annually of offshore oil and gas royalties into land and water preservation.

“Rather than putting this burden on taxpayers, the fund compensates them for the use of publicly owned lands,” Lehrer said. “Programs like these show that conservation and conservatism are not only compatible, but often go hand-in-hand.”

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