Off-Road Riders Spend Money!

Study claims “Wilderness” designations have negative impact on local economies.

Wilderness area sign

Wilderness area sign

Of all federal land-use designations, “Wilderness” is the most restrictive. It prohibits roads, road construction, motorized travel, mechanized equipment, logging, mining, telecommunication towers, transmission lines and energy pipelines. Environmentalists often claim that “Wilderness” attracts tourism and boosts local economies. According to a recent study by Utah State University, very often the opposite is true.

“The argument often stated by the environmental community that Wilderness is good for local economies is simply not supported by the data,” states the summary of “The Economic Costs of Wilderness.” Released in 2011, the study was written by Brian Steed, Ryan Yonk and Randy Simmons of the John M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State.

Conclusions from the study—and useful talking points for OHV advocates to bring to meetings that involve the Wilderness designation—are important to note:

• When comparing Wilderness and non-Wilderness counties, Wilderness counties are at an economic disadvantage to their non-Wilderness counterparts. Accordingly, if the test for whether or not to designate Wilderness is economic, Wilderness fails.

• Economics did not underlie the Wilderness Act or any of the Wilderness areas established since the Act was passed (1964). Wilderness is established for emotional, ecological and cultural purposes. Results show that those purposes are accomplished at a cost to local economies.

• Controlling for other factors influencing county economic conditions, the Wilderness designation is

significantly associated with lower per capita income, lower total payroll and lower total tax receipts in


• Despite these differing views, Congress has continued creating Wilderness areas. There are 759 Wilderness Areas currently in the U.S., totaling 109,663,992 acres. Only six states contain no Wilderness: Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland and Rhode Island.

• Wilderness is managed by four federal agencies: the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Dave Halsey contributes to the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) newsletter, is a member of its board of directors and leader of the "clubs and associations" team.