Wilderness:

Effects of Designation on Economy and Grazing in Utah

RCED-93-11: Published: Dec 29, 1992. Publicly Released: Dec 29, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed a 1990 study of the economic impact of designating various amounts of public lands in Utah as wilderness, focusing on the: (1) reasonableness of the study's assumptions and the soundness of its methodology; and (2) wilderness designation's effect on livestock grazing on public land in Utah.

GAO found that: (1) the study projected that a wilderness designation of 3.2 million acres would cost Utah $9.2 billion annually in future earnings, a designation of 1.4 million acres would cost $1.4 billion, and a designation of 5 million acres would cost $13.2 billion; (2) the $13.2 billion loss would be the equivalent of about half of Utah's 1988 or 1989 gross state product, although the combined income from mining, all agriculture, and all services, including tourism, accounted for only about 21 percent of Utah's 1988 gross state product; (3) the disparity between the study's projected losses and the actual possible loss were due to the study's unreasonable assumptions and flawed methodology; (4) the study's assumption that no mining, grazing, or recreation would occur on the designated lands is incorrect since laws and regulations permit such continued use, and mineral resource development was improbable even without wilderness designation; (5) the study's methodology did not discount future cash flows, double-counted alternative measures of the same economic activity in determining lost revenues, and did not include intangible costs and benefits of wilderness designation; and (6) independent reviews of the study have also concluded that its assumptions and methodology were flawed. GAO also found that: (1) neither the Forest Service nor the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had quantified the wilderness designation's effect on grazing; (2) although the Service and BLM keep overall statistics on grazing, they were not in a form that would permit measurement of the wilderness designation's effect; (3) in general, the agencies believed that wilderness designation did not affect grazing levels; and (4) a 1990 study of grazing in two national forests in Arizona showed that the Forest Service had not decreased grazing in wilderness areas, and the turnover and nonuse rates of grazing permits were unaffected by wilderness designation.

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