WASHINGTON – Recreation on federal lands last year supported more than 8,000 jobs in Arizona’s rural communities, the fourth-highest in the nation, according to an Interior Department report released Wednesday.
The report said recreational activities on Arizona’s public lands supported a total of 21,364 jobs and contributed just under $2 billion to the state economy.
When other operations are considered — including energy and mining programs, grazing and timber operations, federal grants and salaried employees — the totals rise to $2.4 billion and 29,284 jobs for Arizona, the report said.
As of this year, more than 28 million acres in Arizona, or nearly 40 percent of the state, are under the department’s jurisdiction. Other states with significant federal land holdings also had high economic numbers in the report.
But some who support private land rights say the Interior Department is overly committed to preservation, and recreation should not be the only economic driver for rural communities.
“My sense is this administration is closing roads, strangling economic opportunities, by not allowing public lands to be used to the extent they could for economic development,” said Chuck Cushman, director of the American Land Rights Association.
The Interior Department responded to Cushman by pointing to a statement accompanying the report that said “investing in recreation, conservation and energy development can play an important role” in revitalizing the national economy.
Small-town leaders said recreational opportunities on public lands are vital to their communities.
“Tourism and recreation industries are one, two or three as far as economic impact in rural communities,” said Kingman Mayor John Salem, whose town sees a lot of business from hikers, mountain bikers and boaters using nearby public lands.
“If we didn’t have access to a lot of those lands, we would feel it sorely,” Salem said.
Yuma Mayor Al Krieger called his town’s economic model a three-legged stool: defense, agriculture and tourism.
“Everybody here understands the extremely important nature of that (tourism) leg,” he said, noting that Yuma essentially doubles in population each year with the arrival of up to 100,000 winter visitors.
“Think of just the gasoline sales and things that happen at the convenience stores and fast-food restaurants,” said Krieger.
The economic output of Arizona’s public lands was the sixth-highest in the country behind California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Wyoming’s federal lands contributed almost $29 billion to its economy, which was most in the nation.
Arizona ranked eighth in the number of jobs supported by Interior Department activities, behind California, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. Texas was No. 1 with 257,066 jobs.
As of 2011, Arizona is eighth in acres of land under the department’s jurisdiction. Alaska has the most, with 225.8 million acres.