A new independent study from economic consulting firm BBC Research and Consulting finds that if Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva’s Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument bill passes, it will bring in $51 million annually to the economy of Northern Arizona.
The figure comes from the combined economic value of current activities in the specified 1.7 million acres slotted for designation and permitted under the bill.
Much of it is “spending by out-of-town visitors to the proposed monument area, along with revenues from land management operations, grazing, mining, and forest products,” writes the Center for Western Priorities, which commissioned the study.
“[Plus], visitors spend millions on lodging, restaurants, and outdoor recreation; these dollars recirculate throughout the region, providing a broad economic benefit.”
The report was not intended to make a recommendation for or against monument designation, but it’s authors do point out that it would yield a net benefit for both the local economy, the preservation of tribal heritage, and conservation efforts:
“The operation and visitor spending associated with the proposed [monument] provides substantial benefit to the local economy [from] direct and secondary impacts, [and it] also benefits the region by preserving lands that are historically and culturally significant, as well as an invaluable natural resource,” the authors write.
The publication of the report comes at a time when Arizona's congressional delegates are entangled in a heated debate over whether establishing the monument would be a big boon to the area — or cripple its economy.
Those supporting this designation have long held that permanently protecting the area would go a long way toward conserving the fragile ecosystem and safeguarding an important tribal heritage area.
Opponents, like Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar and U.S. senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, argue it will it will destroy local industries, cause massive job loss, and hamper recreational activities.
(As New Times wrote about recently, Grijalva says most of these complaints are not based on the facts of the bill — his bill, for instance, preserves already-existing grazing rights and other land-based industries — and he questions whether his colleagues even read it at all before firing off criticism.)
According to a document from Grijalva’s office, his bill: “protects reservation, state, and private land rights and ensures ongoing access to privately held inholdings; protects existing water rights, claims, and suits; ensures continued motorized and mechanized uses on designated trails; protects existing and planned grazing allotments; and it protects commercial and recreational hunting.”
Mollie Fitzpatrick, a BBC employee who worked on the study, explains that her team “looked at the number of jobs that are currently being supported on potentially designated land [and] found that it currently supports 416 jobs.”
Most, she explains, come from tourism, the federal and state governments, the forestry industry, and the mining industry. And as income from these jobs circulates through the economy, something economists call the multiplier effect takes hold, and the money creates more money — the $51 million takes into account the current multiplier effect of all economic activity within the designated area.
“We assume all of those existing land uses would be preserved [after monument designation], that all of those 416 jobs would be preserved,” she adds, meaning that Gosar’s claims about job loss may be unfounded.
(A representative from Gosar’s office could not be reached for comment.)
And on top of that, she adds, since monument designation traditionally has resulted in increased tourism activity, it’s likely that the monument could in fact be a job creator and could bring in more far than $51 million if visitation increases.”
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The report also talks about the value people place “on the existence of unique and pristine places” and says while the authors “cannot provide specific quantitative estimates of the existence value of the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas, it is important to note that additional land protections, such as national monument designations, help protect and even enhance the full value of the region’s important ecosystem services, pristine vistas, and sacred Native American sites.”
So what’s the big takeaway?
“We don’t go as far as to make a recommendation,” she says, “but $51 million is a pretty substantial economic impact, and all of that would be preserved [under Grijalava’s bill].”