Trask: EDP — No economic lessons needed

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Darcy Trask

This is in response to the guest column by Michelle Haefele, of The Wilderness Society, that appeared in the Sept. 11 Saturday Morning Press, titled “A protected Vermillion Basin strengthens NW Colorado economy.”

In your column, you use your status as an economist to make several points that the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership believes are unnecessary or misleading.

We would like to offer readers an alternative viewpoint.

Unfortunately, based on a reader comment on that article, some people may assume your comments are undisputed facts.

“Very well said,” the reader wrote in the comment. “Unfortunately, because your argument is logical and based on facts, not fear, it will be instantly ignored by Moffat County and their masters in the oil and

gas industry.”

However, based on your website, your underlying bias is evident.

“The Wilderness Society is the leading American conservation organization working to protect our nation’s public lands,” according to the web site.

While The Wilderness Society has a mission to conserve and protect public lands in a specific way, we would like to remind readers that the Bureau of Land Management has a different mission and that not all American citizens share The Wilderness Society’s single-focus goal.

The BLM manages public lands on behalf of all Americans, not just those who enjoy public lands for environmental uses. The BLM’s goal is to work with its partners to “meet its mission of sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

It may be helpful to readers to see the reminder that productivity of public lands for the economic betterment of communities is an important part of striking a balance in the management of public lands.

In your letter, you offer what appears to be a rural economics 101 lecture that suggests you feel our community and its leaders are ignorant of how rural economies like ours operate.

You appear to suggest that we are ill-informed of the need to work to diversify our economy and you suggest we have done nothing to support our local economy except to make “friends in the oil and gas industry.”

Had you researched our community, you would have recognized that:

• We have a solid grip on the concept that economic diversification is an important goal. No Economics 101 lesson is needed.

We’ve been working on it, through thousands of hours of volunteer time, and funding it, with hundreds of thousands of dollars, for more than 20 years through our economic development and tourism groups — EDP, Yampa Valley Partners, Craig Chamber of Commerce and the Moffat County Tourism Association.

• The Moffat County Commission and the City of Craig are primary funders of the economic development/diversification effort.

You are welcome to add funds or volunteer hours to our ongoing work. However, you will find that we are not willing to disregard the primary industries that are critical to the economic health of our region.

You note that counties with a high level of entrepreneurism and a highly-educated workforce grow faster.

Perhaps you should research YVP at yampavalleypartners.com. What you will find is an objective data reporting organization that is funded in part by the City of Craig and Moffat County. Our community leaders value data-driven decision making, and they use YVP data to make informed and intelligent decisions.

You will note Moffat County has a very high level of entrepreneurism, and that our entrepreneurism ratio is going up.

You may also be interested to know our community recently invested in a new college campus.

We value a skilled workforce and we work hard to provide educational opportunities.

You indicate you feel we believe “the only economic benefit our public lands provide is through oil and gas development.”

You may find the entire environmental section of the YVP Community Indicators Project of interest. Our elected officials and community leaders understand a lot more about our environment than your column indicates.

If a simple solution existed to gaining economic stability and diversification for rural and remote areas with large public land holdings, it likely would have been figured out and this would all be fixed by now.

Our community has been working hard at this for a long time, and we understand that these are complex problems with few simple solutions.

What we do know is that the oil and gas industry and the mining industry pay “livable wages,” and that many of the industries associated with the environmental uses of public lands do not pay livable wages.

Those industries must then be supported by public dollars through social service assistance programs.

Please keep in mind that more than 25 percent of Moffat County has protections such as those suggested in the Vermillion plan, including such areas as Dinosaur National Monument, Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge and numerous wilderness study areas. You might also find it of interest that the Division of Wildlife indicates something of a wildlife void over nearly the entire Vermillion Basin area.

You indicate that the removal of the 1-percent drilling allowance is a “relatively minor change.” We are simply asking the BLM to eliminate that “relatively minor change” and go back to the agreement reached by the various local and regional stakeholders.

We would be happy to extend an invitation to you and The Wilderness Society to attend an EDP meeting.

You will find that we are rather well informed due to our organization’s long-term investment in economic diversification and development.

You might also appreciate knowing more about some of our programs, including our Start Right-Grow Right program for entrepreneurs, and you likely would benefit from thorough research of the YVP Community Indicators Project.

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