BOISE — A new federal study shows recreationists and the industry that supports their outdoor activities on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management are outpacing traditional users like ranchers, loggers and miners.
The results are a look into the Department of Interior’s economic effects in Idaho, a state where the BLM manages more than 11.9 million acres, mostly desert and canyon lands at lower elevations.
The report finds that recreation accounts for more than six times more jobs than grazing and timber industries, and three times more than energy and minerals. Jobs and economic benefits from recreationists using BLM land include rafting and hunting outfitters and their support staff as well as the stores and merchants who sell food, gas and other supplies for the trips, the Idaho Statesman reported in a story published Tuesday.
“We spend thousands of dollars a year in Costco and Albertsons, and bus mechanics,’’ said David Konigsberg, operations director for ROW Adventures, which runs rafting trips on rivers like the Salmon, Owyhee, Bruneau and Jarbidge.
Still, BLM officials say ranching and resource industries remain primary economic drivers in many of the small, rural communities near federal land.
“Certainly in some of these rural communities they are important,’’ BLM Deputy State Director Jeff Foss said. “But if you put it in the statewide context, recreation is more important.’’
The report’s findings could renew the debate and criticism that the BLM has catered more to ranchers and the timber and mining industries, groups that traditionally have wielded more political clout.
Wyatt Prescott, executive director of the Idaho Cattle Association, doesn’t dispute the findings of the report. But he takes a different approach to the results. Prescott says ranchers ultimately save the agency money because they fix fences, practice conservation and are on the lookout for fires and weed invasions.
“It saves the agency money because the ranchers are out on the ground doing stewardship,’’ Prescott said.
Budget figures show the BLM manages its land more cheaply than comparable federal agencies. It averages $1.70 an acre for management costs, compared to $8 for the National Forest Service and about $9.50 for the National Park Service.
National forests, which are managed under the Department of Agriculture and total 20 million acres in Idaho, also now account for more recreation jobs than timber, grazing and mining.
Yet the BLM spends about $81 million annually to manage grazing and timber land, compared to $68 million on recreation management programs.
John Robison, public lands associate for the Idaho Conservation League, said this disparity should be changed to meet today’s economic needs and realities.
“A more appropriate name for today’s BLM might be the Bureau of Land and Memories of the Good Old Days,’’ Robison said.
The report also shows BLM employees and workers hired to fulfill jobs paid by grants to clean up abandoned mines, royalties from phosphate mining and timber payments account for Idaho’s total of 11,310 jobs tied to the Department of Interior.