Environmental Protection, Population Change, and Economic Development in the Rural Western United States

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This research analyzes the relationship between protected federal lands (wilderness, national parks, national monuments and roadless areas) and nearby communities in the rural western United States. Opponents of environmental protection claim that protected lands limit the growth of nearby communities by locking up potentially valuable natural resources and restricting mining, logging and grazing. Others claim that extractive industries are no longer the backbone of rural economies— instead, the presence of protected federal lands encourages growth by attracting tourists and new residents. A geographic information system is used to calculate the proportion of protected lands occurring within 50 miles of the center of each western county. This calculation, in combination with detailed county-level data, indicates that environmental protection is correlated with relatively rapid population growth and with relatively rapid income and employment growth.

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Correspondence to Paul Lorah.

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Lorah, P., Southwick, R. Environmental Protection, Population Change, and Economic Development in the Rural Western United States. Population and Environment 24, 255–272 (2003).

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  • wilderness
  • roadless areas
  • Rocky Mountains
  • rural development