WASHINGTON (Nov. 12, 2013) – A new paper from the R Street Institute argues that taking a middle-ground “government-lite” approach to conservation on federal lands would better serve local communities and maximize economic benefits, while still preserving America’s natural heritage.

Authored by R Street Associate Fellow Ryan Cooper with contributions from R Street President Eli Lehrer, and based largely on Cooper’s travels to seven communities in the American West, “The Economic Benefits of Protected Lands: A Government-Lite Approach” makes the case that federal land management agencies could do a better job of spurring growth of the recreation economy by making destinations accessible, while still permitting resource extraction and devolving authority to states or the private sector where appropriate.

In his travels, Cooper also found that the recreation economy is best served where federal agencies work to forge constructive relationships with private business and local government, citing the case of Moab, Utah as an instructive example.

“Agencies worked with locals to pass a night-sky ordinance, realizing that a good view of the stars was a major reason people visited, and also work closely with the local search-and-rescue organization, which rescues lost or heat-stricken visitors on an almost-daily basis during the high season,” he writes.

He concludes that “it should be no surprise that the hottest outrage over the recent government shutdown centered on closing the national parks.”

“The very idea of the national park is an American one—Yellowstone was the first in history and was quickly copied around the world,” Cooper writes. “That rich tradition is reflected in the broad popularity of protected lands and their massive yearly visitation. As the United States adjusts to an economy based almost entirely on services, protected lands will form a critical part of our economic future.”

The full paper can be found here:


Cooper will be participating in a teleconference — along with local business leaders from Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington state — later today to discuss the paper at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT. Interested media can dial in at 1-800-356-8278, conference code 127706.

Featured Publications