Sunday, March 12, 2017

March 1, 2017
By Todd Wilkinson

Jackson Hole, WY – Whether it’s Yellowstone, Grand Teton, our national forests, wildlife refuges or even private ranches, never in the history of America has preserving land, by keeping its conservation values intact, resulted in huge economic hardship over mid to long-term horizons.

In fact, the most thriving, consistent, and sustainable economic sector in the great state of Wyoming is tourism, fueled by the powerful engine of protected public lands in the northwest quadrant of the state.

As Gov. Matt Mead and the legislature struggle to deal with budget shortfalls to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars—the vast majority related to the state’s misguided gamble on coal—you still hear elected officials spreading the unsubstantiated rumor that environmental protection is costing the state.

Recently, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso and Congresswoman Liz Cheney once again claimed the Endangered Species Act, public review requirements as part of the National Environmental Policy Act, and laws enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have hobbled the Wyoming economy.

While such anti-federal rhetoric certainly resonates with Wyoming voters, there is scant evidence to back it up.

Barrasso and Cheney would have their constituents believe that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, implemented by EPA to control pollution and carbon emissions, was decimating Wyoming’s low sulfur coal industry. But the Clean Power Plan actually didn’t come on line until late last year.

Many months before, four of the major coal companies doing business in the state declared bankruptcy not because of any environmental regulation, but instead owed to a glut of cheap natural gas and oil that became the fuel of choice for power generators. In fact, competition from these other fossil fuels so undercut the commodity value of coal that companies could barely give it away, much less profitably operate coal export terminals to Asia.

Now using Obama as a convenient foil and President Trump vowing to unlock $66 trillion of oil shale, Barrasso and Cheney are hard-pressed to explain how that strategy, which includes gutting environmental regulations, will advance their cause of reviving Wyoming’s coal future....

Fremont County, Wyoming GDP (click here)

Wyoming’s tourism economy (click here) saw another year of tremendous growth in 2015. In a preliminary assessment released today by the Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT), a record 10.5 million people visited the state in 2015, up from 10.1 million visitors in 2014 or 4.2 percent. Wyoming significantly outpaced the national average visitation growth rate of 2.4 percent. This follows several years of consistently strong rises in visitation. Over the last decade, Wyoming’s tourism marketing has helped contribute to a 48 percent increase of visitation in the state.  

Travel spending in the state grew to just under $3.4 billion in 2015, an increase of $9 million over the previous year.  This visitor spending directly affects Wyoming’s economy by generating $175 million in local and state tax revenues, up 7.4 percent in 2015 compared to $163 million in 2014. Since 2005, tax revenues generated by the tourism and hospitality industry have grown by more than 86 percent.

Additionally, travel-related jobs are showing growth with the creation of 690 new jobs in Wyoming last year. The state’s tourism industry supports just under 32,000 full and part-time jobs, an employment number that has risen 7.7 percent in the past 10 years, and represents 12 percent of the state’s total workforce.

“We knew that by adding Seattle to our target markets and deepening our presence in existing markets, our campaign was strategically focused to get more visitors to Wyoming,” the Wyoming Office of Tourism’s Executive Director, Diane Shober said.  “With the addition of the work being done by local lodging tax boards and many tourism related businesses, Wyoming was and continues to be well positioned for success,” Shober added....