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Modern Day Range Wars-Part II-Economic Impact
Posting Date: 04/24/2012

By Barbara Ellestad

This is Part II of a multi-part series examining the issues surrounding the Gold Butte controversy that's been going on for several years in the region. It is based on conversations with Nancy Hall, President of Friends of Gold Butte, Elise McAllister, Director of Partners in Conservation, both 501(c) non-profit groups. Information based on conversations with Met Johnson, a long-time area resident and business owner, is also included in the series. This series is part essay, part opinion, and part news reporting.

See Mesquite Citizen Journal story Modern Day Range Wars-Part I

As you read this, keep this question in the back of your mind: what would you do with $94 million dollars?

When I hear all these Gold Butte discussions I hear two things a lot: We're getting too many people out there so we need to control it. If we make it an NCA with Wilderness, we'll attract thousands more people.

Well, which is it? You can't argue both ways although I've heard the same person do it. The first statement smacks of the very types of controls that some people fear the most. The second part smacks of elitists who only want their kind of people to use the area.

Those in favor of declaring Gold Butte an NCA with Wilderness area cite the economic benefits that could possibly be gained if their objectives are met.

Hall included a document in her background material that says service jobs in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument grew from 3,627 to 5,749, a 59 percent increase. The document also says non-service jobs shrank from 1,294 to 1,148, an 11 percent decrease. The document defines service jobs as doctors, engineers, and teachers.

If I'm not mistaken, service jobs also include busboys, dishwashers, waitresses, and so on.

It also says that “studies have shown that protected public lands are one of several key quality-of-life factors influencing business owners when determining the location of their offices and attracting a talented workforce. In addition, the presence of these protected public lands can also help communities diversify local economies that had been stagnant due to over-reliance on declining resource extraction industries.”

There’s also this statement, “A Mesquite Chamber of Commerce survey found that owners highlighted anticipated community growth and quality of life as the major reasons for locating their businesses in Mesquite.”

I wasn't able to access the survey on the Chamber's Web site, but that could mean most anything. Maybe one of those “quality of life” issues is being able to have unfettered access to ATV trails and a multitude of recreational choices throughout Gold Butte and the surrounding areas. Maybe it’s not.

The U.S. Department of Commerce says tourism spending jumped 8.1 percent in 2011. It doesn’t define the type of tourists or the locations for the increase so one can read all kinds of opinions into that.

Couldn’t Mesquite also see a significant economic gain if the local area and Gold Butte became a renown destination for ATV enthusiasts? I have to assume that restaurants, hotels, gas stations, and retail stores would receive a boost from the ATV-ers who would visit the area and enjoy their type of off road – truly off road – experience in Gold Butte.

Doesn't it cost more (thus more sales tax collected) to buy new shoes for an ATV than it does for two feet?

Severely limiting this recreation and tourist group’s activities and freedoms could possibly be a detriment to Mesquite’s economy.

McAllister has a document, authored by Brian C. Steed, Ryan M. Yonk, and Randy Simmons, Utah State University, that says, “Local officials frequently complain that Wilderness harms local economies by limiting the opportunities for economic development. The State of Utah, for instance, recently passed House Joint Resolution 10 which requested that the

U.S. Congress not designate any additional Wilderness in Utah. Through a vote by a supermajority of members, the state legislature asserted that Wilderness’ limitation of multiple uses causes substantial economic hardship for the state.”

The report goes on to say that “results indicate that Wilderness impacts both households and counties. Average household income within Wilderness Counties is estimated to be $1,446 less than Non-Wilderness Counties. Total payroll in Wilderness Counties is also estimated to be $37,500 less than in Non-Wilderness Counties. County Tax Receipts in Wilderness Counties is estimated to be $92,910 less than in Non-Wilderness Counties.”

I found this report on

“The Hatfield and McCoy Trail System, created by the West Virginia Legislature to spur tourism-centered economic development for the sluggish state economy, has been a smashing success. Marshall University completed an Economic Impact Study for the (ATV) trail system in October of 2006. Key points from this study show remarkable positive economic effects on the communities surrounding the trail system:

The U.S. Census shows total retail sales in the region have grown by 12 percent and sales per establishment by 25 percent. Gains in sales were seen in all related sectors including gasoline stations, accommodations, food service and real estate sales and rentals. This latter sector experienced the greatest growth due to the improving property values adjacent to the study area.

The Hatfield-McCoy Trail System generated 146 new jobs for the State of West Virginia. Revenue from gasoline stations, lodging, ATV tires and parts, and real estate have dramatically increased economic activity in a devastated region. Hopefully this model will encourage more municipalities to follow suit and become more friendly towards off-road recreation sports in their regions."

One of the best economic development ideas I’ve heard recently is to build a boat ramp on this side of Lake Mead, accessible through Gold Butte. Boaters notoriously spend lots of money and many people from up north would love to have a shortcut to the lake. Yes, the road to the lake would require significant upgrades to accommodate the traffic. But we’d have to have boat storage businesses, boat repair shops, supply stores and such.

Doug Reath, a local ATV enthusiast, also mentioned having a tri-state ATV use permit that would be valid across the Gold Butte region, flowing into the Arizona strip, and up into Utah. He opines that associated economic activity would be a boon to the local area and that sales of access permits could help fund teams of monitors to patrol the area.

"We could embrace ATV riders and put signs up marking trails through town out to the desert area. We could advertise that people can ride from their house in Mesquite all the way out to the Gold Butte area. If we had a tri-state permit to sell, we can use the money to organize ATV-ers who would monitor the area and fulfill a site stewardship role."

So to say that Mesquite’s economic salvation would only come from hikers who would only visit the area if it had a Wilderness designation ignores the economic impact from many other recreationists who have been and still come to the area to enjoy all forms of activities in Gold Butte.

Have you been thinking about what you could do with $94 million dollars? I can tell you what your county government has done and plans to do with your $94 million dollars.

Are they going to improve your roads? No. Are they going to reduce your taxes? No. Are they going to improve your life? No.

Clark County has already spent approximately $47 million, and has $47 million more to spend, on improving the habitat for desert tortoises and 78 other critters in southern Nevada.

$94 million dollars.

Think about that.

This series examining the issues surrounding the Gold Butte controversy continues on Wednesday with a look at land management issues.


  • Posted Date: 04/24/2012
    Great article Barb. It's time for Council to watch out for all the people, not just special interest groups. Keep the Federal Government as far away as possible.
    By: Phil Knutson
  • Posted Date: 04/24/2012
    Barbara, your “opinion” apparently overrode the facts in this piece. Fact #1 – The $94 Million you mention is not “your money” that could be used to reduce taxes or improve highways! It is money primarily provided as mitigation fees paid by developers and other BUSINESSES who destroy existing habitat for their BUSINESS USES and the must be used only to improve or protect other habitat. This is all part of a “balance of interests” plan that you seem to advocate sometimes, but not in this particular article. If we don’t spend the money to improve habitat and conservation for the enjoyment and survival of all, we don’t get it! In Part 1 of this series you stated up front that “I intentionally stayed away from federal government organizations” but now have gone on in Part II To make the use of Federal funds the primary theme! Fact #2 - You keep implying that the evil conservationists are trying to make Gold Butte into a designated Wilderness, but even the most aggressive proposals request less than 17% of the land to be designated as Wilderness, and that area currently has NO roads, trails, or other recreational improvements. Under these proposals, NO currently existing roads or trails would be closed. The other 83% would simply be subject to a management plan overseen by all interest groups instead of being completely unmanaged as it currently is. Fact #3 – Designation as an 83% NCA with 17% (max) Wilderness IS “having it both ways”, contrary to your position that you can’t have it both ways and also VERY CONTRARY to your implication that the evil environmentalists are “elitists who only want their kind of people to use the area”. NCA restrictions vary between conservation areas but generally the areas are not leased or sold under mining laws (ie – generally not allowed to be destroyed for all other users by PRIVATE BUSINESSES FOR THEIR OWN PROFIT and motorized vehicle use is restricted. Note that motorized vehicle use is “restricted” under conservation plans, N
    By: John
  • Posted Date: 04/24/2012
    I'll put it this way, in my 60+ years in senior management, everywhere that there has been an NCA type designation, the economy of surrounding communities vastly increases. The alternative is- it stays like it is now for the next 100 years.
    By: Henry
  • Posted Date: 04/24/2012
    If your talking about our so-called "Pioneers" or original settlers, it seems to me that the desert tortoise was here long before those stinking cows were.
    By: Marty
  • Posted Date: 04/24/2012
    - continuation of post above - Note that motorized vehicle use is “restricted” under conservation plans, NOT eliminated. Current proposals call for all current roads and trails to remain open for use by motorized vehicles! However, I think ALL users should agree that driving motorized vehicles on ancient petro glyphs and thus destroying them should and will not be allowed. Fact #4 – Future management of the NCA is proposed to be done by a committee that includes members from ALL interest groups, NOT just by conservationists – isn’t this what you usually advocate? Fact #5 – We CAN “have it all” in the Mesquite area. There are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of acres in the area surrounding Mesquite that are not designated and are already being used on a relatively unrestricted basis by ATV’s. A few minor restrictions in a small area will not change this, but will also enable “other” users to enjoy the land owned by us all. You’re article implies that the NCA (83%)/Wilderness (17%) designation would stop the ability of Mesquite to promote itself as an ATV destination, and that is just not the FACT.
    By: John
  • Posted Date: 04/24/2012
    I'm not positive but I think our local Kokopelli ATV club and the larger state ATV group supports the NCA plan.
    By: Sandi
  • Posted Date: 04/24/2012
    I'm not sure what the fuss is. Any improvement out there would be better than what we have now. NCA designation would at least get the ball rolling.
    By: Patty
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