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Understanding the Value of Protecting, Conserving Public Lands

Hello, all! I hope everyone is enjoying summer up here in beautiful Northern Arizona. We really do have an abundance of beauty and I hope you all are making time to enjoy it. Get out to the Grand Canyon or down to Oak Creek, go for a hike on the Peaks, or kayak the Verde. Growing up, my grandfather would take me fishing on Lake Mary and hiking out on the Mogollon Rim. These remain some of my most treasured memories.

Our public lands provide endless opportunities for recreation and cherished family time away from the computer screens. Just as importantly, they also drive our economy. I recently testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands concerning uranium mining at the Grand Canyon. Let me be clear, we cannot risk the contamination of our water or our economy by allowing uranium mining at our very own natural wonder.

A recent report from the National Park Service shows that annually, Grand Canyon National Park brings 6.3 million people to Northern Arizona and those visitors spend $947 million in Northern Arizona communities, supporting 12,558 jobs, and contributing $1.2 billion to the local economy.

Locally, we’ve made investments in our forests. Thinning projects not only protect Northern Arizona’s watersheds, they also save money. Decades of fire suppression have resulted in dense, unhealthy forests. This, combined with a changing climate, means that the risk of forest fire is not an if, but a when. The Schultz Fire of 2010 cost local businesses and residents $147 million in post-fire flood damage.

Investing in conservation and protective measures not only mitigates the risk of disasters that cost money, it generates money throughout the region. Healthy forests in Northern Arizona sustain Arizona’s surface water by capturing snow and rain and sending it downhill into rivers and streams. A recent report from the Audubon Society found that outdoor recreation along
waterways contributes $2 billion a year to Coconino County’s economy, generating 17,000 jobs. In Yavapai County, 216,000 people participated in outdoor recreation along waterways, contributing $1 billion a year to the local economy and supporting 9,400 jobs.

We in rural Arizona know that water is life, and that it is our most precious resource. Here in Northern Arizona, it’s also a significant part of our local economy. Federal, state and local policies should work to protect and conserve our public lands and wild spaces. Not only for future generations, but for the health of our economies and our towns. FBN 

By Coral Evans

Coral Evans, MBA, is the mayor of the City of Flagstaff.

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