RGDN Monument Op-Ed
By John Stump and Christine Canaly
September 17, 2016
“Proposed Monument Upgrade Honors Unique Landscapes and Opportunities for Business Support”
The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the potential benefits of expanding the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument into Colorado on BLM lands just across the state border in Conejos County. We acknowledge and have reviewed the research studies that have been conducted by the National Park Service, Headwaters Economics, BBC Research, and others to document the increased business activity and job growth in host communities which accompany an upgrade to higher protection and status of their surrounding public lands, including National Monuments.
In every case, these studies indicate that these prestigious upgrades give greater identity and attraction to the area, leading to increased visitor spending and opportunities for business expansion.
For example, the 2012 study by BBC Research & Consulting, gives a current-and-projected perspective of the monument benefits in neighboring Taos and Rio Arriba counties in New Mexico. The estimated total economic impact was projected to increase from $17.2 million to $32.2 million after designation --- a change of 86 percent --- and would add over 270 jobs to support the monument activities.
Impact studies typically include both direct spending from visitors outside the area, and the secondary or “ripple effect” of additional spending by local businesses and employees as they receive new sources of income. A portion of this spending could also be captured to increase local government tax revenue.
SLVEC plans on doing additional work to bring these projections down to a county and valley scale, but whatever gains we find that the monument will bring would be an improvement to the present economic base. Monument protection also keeps the BLM lands out of the hands of fossil fuel developers, and SLVEC does not expect the BLM stewards of the land to make extensive changes to traditional uses and sustainable grazing practices. It’s fair to expect that existing businesses that currently exist in all aspects of the tourism industry such as the Cumbres & Toltec, resorts, restaurants, services, and real estate will do exceptionally well with the new wave of monument-attracted visitors.
Besides a much-needed boost to the economy and greater opportunity for a wider spectrum of the public to share in the benefits, the monument identity also brings attention to environmental treasures in the valley such as the Rio Grande Natural Area (RGNA). Hidden from view and neglected from its deserved status as a unique riparian area for decades, the monument designation will give the RGNA its rightful place for funding among the family of San Luis Valley protected lands and the National Conservation Lands system. The addition of the Expansion proposal to America’s newest collection of protected public lands and waterways will stand alongside our national parks and wildlife refuges as guardians of America’s heritage and drivers of the nation’s $646 billion outdoor recreation economy.
Support for the notion that the ecosystems of the proposed monument landscapes may themselves offer extreme value to the county, region, state, and nation was recently brought to SLVEC’s attention, and lends credence to this concept. Based on research conducted in North Carolina forests, a system was developed to assign monetary values to various ecosystem services such as food, water supply and regulation, carbon sequestration and climate stability, soil retention, recreation, and other life-enhancing services supplied by the land itself.
Researchers in this case discovered that the value of the region’s natural systems ranged from 40-50 percent of total personal income for the region. The study also mentions work by Costanza in 1997 who estimated that the world’s ecosystems produce about three times as much each year as do the world’s economies.
Conejos Clean Water Launches Efforts to Expand the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument into the San Luis Valley with this new Video (1-07-16)