By Carrie Hamblen, CEO of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce in New Mexico
Bangor Daily News op-ed
At first blush, northern Maine and southern New Mexico don’t have lot in common. But in fact, both are largely rural regions with abundant land for outdoor recreation. In both states, we count on visitors and tourism for our robust outdoor recreation economies that generate more than $5 billion in spending and sustain 65,000 jobs in each state.
Also, in Maine and New Mexico, we have no need for out-of-state politicians parachuting in to spread misinformation about national monuments.
As the CEO of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce in southern New Mexico, I’ve seen congressmen drop in with that misguided mission. So I was happy to share my positive experience with national monuments and my negative experience with parachuting congressmen with my chamber counterpart Gail Fanjoy at the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce.
In New Mexico, I work with scores of small businesses to capitalize on the 2014 designation of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The monument is at the crossroads of New Mexico’s diverse history and culture, graced with natural wonders and incredible hunting and recreational opportunities. We are growing our new monument into an important economic driver for the region.
But when that monument was under consideration two years ago, the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee at the time, Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state, wrote that “local communities and their local elected leaders oppose this designation because they know it will block job-creating economic activities.”
He was wrong on both counts.
In fact, 83 percent of the local county residents support the monument. An economic study before the designation projected the monument would produce $7.4 million in annual economic benefits, and we already see the returns. Since the monument designation became official, our region has been recognized in a number of national publications, was listed as one of the top 10 best places to visit in the United States by Lonely Planet and has been host to a number of conferences — because of a national monument in our backyard.
In 2013, when the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument was designated in northern New Mexico, it, too, was opposed by the anti-parks caucus in Congress, including the current chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. They denied there was strong local and statewide support and even raised concerns about the costs of the monument.
But the benefits are clear. The year following the designation, tourism rose with corresponding increases of 21 percent and 8.3 percent in lodgers’ tax and food gross receipts taxes in Taos, which is the gateway to the monument. This year, three years after the designation, the Taos News identified the monument designation as one of the factors leading to the continued growth of the area’s economy.
Our friends to the north in Colorado have had similar experiences. After the designation of the Browns Canyon National Monument, Rep. Bishop and his friends weighed in. Once again they denied the existence of well-documented local support. Despite this continued gloom and doom, the returns from Browns Canyon are already obvious.
According the Chaffee County Visitors Bureau, in the year following the designation, the county lodging tax revenue increased by nearly 9.5 percent, demonstrating an influx of visitors. As Joe Greiner, owner of Wilderness Aware Rafting, put it, “people come in every day asking about the Browns Canyon National Monument. I anticipate that it will have even more of an impact on our business in the upcoming year.”
In addition to the economic doom-and-gloomers being wrong, Mr. Bishop and his ilk also claimed national monuments would lock out the locals and block access for hunting, fishing and other recreational uses. This, too, is completely untrue. In fact, when the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Trout Unlimited and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership released a report on the best practices for monument designations, they highlighted all three of these monuments as prime examples of monuments that protect access and resources for sportsmen.
Does any of this sound familiar? An out-of-state — and out of touch — congressman with an anti-public lands agenda parachutes in and tells you that a monument will damage the economy, lock out the users and win no support in your state.
Take it from those of us who have lived through it: National monuments present unique opportunities to grow and strengthen local economies while we protect outdoor traditions and our natural heritage for current generations and those to come.