Does wilderness matter? : an examination of the political causes and economic consequences of wilderness designation

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Agriculture


This thesis improves upon previous cross-sectional analyses of the economic effects of wilderness designation in two important ways. First, a political economy analysis of wilderness selection is developed using data from a comprehensive inventory of all potential wilderness areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Second, the economic consequences of wilderness designation are examined using a novel county-level panel data set of western U.S. counties from 1969 to 2010. The Forest Service and Congress are found to act as arbitrators of competing interest groups by designating areas with high levels of wilderness attributes but low development potential. Wilderness designations are found to not have a significant effect on levels of per capita income, population, employment, or average wage per job. These finding are robust to a broad range of specifications. The results suggest that the Forest Service and Congress have made wilderness selection decisions that do not impose significant costs on local economies.




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