Although visitor spending in surrounding communities is the most obvious economic impact of wilderness areas, the designation of wilderness areas also attracts new residents and businesses, creates a high number of jobs in recreation-based industries, increases the tax base and has long term benefits for industries such as commercial fisheries. The influx of new residents and businesses can also change a community’s culture, cause a housing shortage and increase crime congestion and crime.
In this paper, wilderness is defined as “both officially designated wilderness areas and other wildland areas” and includes remote areas whose surroundings are similar to that of the wilderness area and those bordered by extractive uses or major population centers.
Although visitor spending in surrounding communities is the most obvious economic impact of wilderness areas, wilderness contributes to economic development of an area in other ways.
New residents are attracted by the quality of life provided by proximity to a wilderness area and new businesses are attracted by opportunities to participate in the tourism industry and by amenities and quality of life the wilderness areas can offer to employees. New residents and businesses increase employment and income in the community, as well as provide additional taxes for social services. Rural amenities create a strong sense of place for both long-term and new residents, decreasing motivation to move and creating more stable communities.
Wilderness areas provide both positive and negative economic impacts. New businesses and residents can change the culture of a community. Increased populations can increase congestion, crime and create housing shortages. The changes will be welcomed by some and bemoaned by others. They should be recognized as part of a growing desire to live near amenities provided by wilderness.
Recreation-based industries are labor intensive and create a high number of jobs per million-dollars spent. However, many of these jobs are low wage jobs. Service industry jobs offer a wide range of pay levels.
In the short-term, resource extraction (such as mining, and forestry) may create more jobs than will be created by the designation of land as wilderness or other protected status. In the long-term however, non-resource extraction jobs and improvements to commercial fisheries often lead to an overall positive economic impact to a community.