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Economists: Preserve Public Lands for Western Jobs, Vitality

To improve the economy in the Western states, spend some federal dollars improving and preserving public lands. That's the message in a letter to President Obama signed by more than 100 economists and academics at universities across the country, including nine in Washington.

The letter says what has been missing from the federal budget discussions is the research they've been doing that shows public land gives the West an edge for economic growth.

Dr. Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics, says they're finding that quality of life is the main reason today's companies and skilled workers relocate.

"If you have a community that is surrounded by spectacular landscapes, wilderness areas and parks, companies can move to those areas - and one of the things that we're seeing is, that's how they are recruiting really talented employees."

In an era when some lawmakers are suggesting selling off public land to help pay the national debt, economics professor Dr. Walt Hecox says that would be short-sighted.

"It'd be like having a discussion about selling off the Washington Monument because it doesn't make money. And if we don't, in the West, begin to be active and raising these concerns that it's the very foundation of a vibrant economy, then I fear that we will lose in Congress."

Hecox heads the State of the Rockies Project at Colorado College.

In Olympia, Joe Hyer - an outdoor retailer and small business owner - says it's a message not only for Congress, but also for state lawmakers.

"That's what our biggest economic asset is in this state, is the fact that it's such a great place to live - which is why it's just dumbfounding in Washington to see us give additional tax breaks to Boeing, but not invest in state parks. These people are campers, hikers, outdoors people. It's where they want to be."

The letter acknowledges that public lands will continue to be multiple use. It asks the president to support infrastructure spending to get public lands in better shape, as well as protecting new areas as parks, wilderness and national monuments.

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