Conservation: A legacy for the environment and the economy

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In 1922, Harding designated Nevada’s Lehman Caves as a Forest Service National Monument, later to be renamed and expanded to Great Basin National Park. One year later, he protected Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico. Harding, a Republican from the Buckeye State, was following Roosevelt’s conservation tradition and creating his own impressive legacy.

Conservation leadership in Ohio continues to this day. U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, many of my former House colleagues, local officials and historians championed the need to protect Col. Charles Young’s legacy – an African-American pioneer in the U.S. military. Thanks to their hard work, Col. Young’s home in Wilberforce-Xenia was protected as the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument just this month – inspiring and luring tourists for years to come using that same conservation authority, the Antiquities Act, started under Roosevelt.

“Colonel Young’s tremendous academic achievements and selfless acts of valor in the military have long been treasured by Ohioans, and now this national monument will further honor his rich legacy and preserve it for future generations across the country to enjoy,” U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said.

Conservation is a shared value. As George W. Bush’s Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett said at the 2013 launch of the conservative Conservation Leadership Council, “Energy, water, air quality, natural hazards, outdoor recreation, healthy lands and wildlife. These are not Democratic issues. They are not Republican issues. These are issues for everyone in every community.”

Conservation is more than just a shared value and there are more than just altruistic reasons to support conservation – it is also a vital part of the American economy. More than 6.1 million Americans are directly employed thanks to outdoor recreation. State and local economies are benefited by outdoor recreation – to the tune of $646 billion in direct consumer spending. The outdoor recreation industry contributes $80 billion in state, local and national tax revenues.

In Ohio alone, outdoor recreation generates $17.4 billion in consumer spending, 196,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in state and local tax revenue.

Given the incredible economic impact, every community in America should be paying attention to opportunities to capitalize on their historic and cultural sites and outdoor heritage. We don’t have to choose between conservation and economic growth when conservation is a proven job creator.

One of the most important, yet little-known conservation tools for luring tourists and creating local jobs is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF has helped protect some of Ohio’s most treasured places such as the Wayne National Forest and the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. But Congress has rarely fully funded the program -- the funding comes from offshore gas and oil royalties and not taxpayer dollars--undermining the effectiveness of one of the best investments in local economies and job creation we have.

In this era of tight budgets, we need to be extra vigilant in insuring that tax dollars are spent in the most effective way possible, which is why conservation is more important now than ever. Conservation is not only an investment that protects our historical and environmental landmarks; it is also a way to spur economic growth and job creation.

In many ways, conservation of our prized public lands is “the goose that lays the golden egg.”I encourage my former colleagues in Congress to put conservation on equal ground with policies that promote development of our public lands. American jobs, our economy and future generations stand to benefit.

And like President Harding, it is up to all of us to demonstrate our commitment to the longstanding American value of stewardship. We can’t expect Roosevelt to carry the mantle alone.

LaTourette was the U.S. Representative for Ohio's 19th Congressional District and then Ohio's 14th Congressional District, serving from 1995-2013. He is president of the Republican Main Street Partnership.