Letter to the editor by Terry Lewis, Tennessee Wildlife Federation board of directors member, as it appeared in The LaFollette Press on September 7, 2017.
There’s a growing idea in this country that for land to provide value to individuals, it needs to be privately owned. That’s why we see increasing efforts to transfer lands into private hands out west, which is slowly creeping east. But even if you ignore things that don’t have a simple price tag like cleaner water and the importance of healthy wildlife, it is still obvious that public lands benefit everyone.
Right here in Campbell County from 2010 to 2013, we saw a $1.1 million economic impact from just one elk viewing tower on one Wildlife Management Area. That’s according to a recently completed analysis by the University of Tennessee that studied the estimated 56,000 visitors that came to the Hatfield Knob Elk Viewing Area during that time. The viewing tower opened 12 years ago this month to provide people the opportunity to see the elk that were reintroduced into Tennessee in 2000.
If you consider the many other uses our public lands support beyond viewing elk, it’s clear that their value is much further reaching than private land that becomes effectively walled off. In Tennessee, wildlife viewing generates $942 million in economic impact, fishing creates $2 billion, and state parks generate $1.5 billion. Outdoor recreation is directly responsible for 188,000 Tennessee jobs.
The list truly goes on. Before we get caught up in shortsighted “fixes”, we should consider the endless benefits public lands make possible year after year.