Sometimes the priceless really is priceless

 


Most of us have seen those credit-card ads that go something like "Fishing license, $40. Fly casting gear, $480. Reeling in a rainbow trout in the wilderness under a 14,000-foot peak: Priceless."

But dollar signs can be associated with these "priceless" activities. Let's start with the rainbow trout. Rainbows are native to the West Coast, but have been introduced throughout the Mountain West, with a big assist from national fish hatcheries operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Like any good federal agency, the Wildlife Service sends out press releases, including one that points out how "fishing for rainbow trout reels in big bucks." The agency commissioned a study by economist James Caudill, who examined stocking information from 11 national fish hatcheries in 2004 and evaluated the results.

As you might expect from a study commissioned by the people who operate hatcheries, these hatcheries provide a great return for taxpayers. The 11 hatcheries produced 9.4 million rainbow trout, inspiring nearly 4 million angler-days, which meant $172.7 million in spending on licenses, food, gas, lodging, tackle, etc. That spending supported jobs, and the workers paid taxes.

Add it all up, according to the study, and "every dollar spent on rainbow trout production rises up through the economy fueling $32.20 in retail sales and $36.88 in net economic value." So that rainbow on the end of the line isn't just a magnificent creature, or even a tasty main course for a pan-fried outdoor dinner; it's also part of an economic engine that can drive for the long haul, with the net value of $21.19 per fish.

What about the value of wilderness, or more accurately, nearby wilderness that you might see from a raft? Wilderness designation has been proposed for about 20,000 acres in Chaffee County in central Colorado. Years ago, it was identified as the Aspen Ridge Wilderness Study Area. But over time, it became the Browns Canyon Wilderness Study Area, even though all the land in question does not include the river in Browns Canyon. So even if Congress approves wilderness designation someday, the river would not flow through the Browns Canyon Wilderness. Browns Canyon is a popular place for whitewater rafting, though, so the boundary doesn't matter to at least one river outfitter, Joe Greiner of Buena Vista, Colo.

At a hearing on wilderness designation earlier this year, he said, "I want to be able to promote that. I think it would be a great marketing angle for us: 'Come visit Browns Canyon Wilderness.' "

Ah, wilderness, the "marketing angle."

As for the majestic 14,000-foot peak in the wilderness behind a trout stream, it, too, is an economic factor. Colorado has 54 peaks whose summits exceed 14,000 feet above mean sea level. Most don't require special skills or equipment to climb; endurance and common sense will do. Thus they're popular destinations -- so popular that tundra gets trampled and trails erode into gulches.

The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative is a nonprofit group that works to keep the big peaks from getting loved to death by educating climbers and establishing sustainable trails. In 2006, it worked with two recreation economists from Colorado State University to determine the economic value of having a big peak nearby.

After surveying climbers in Park and Summit counties, they learned that the average peak visitor spends $191.61 within a 25-mile radius, and a total of $221 on their Fourteener trip.

The view from the summit on a clear day might be priceless, along with that giddy light-headed summit exuberance produced by hypoxia, but now we also know that the Fourteener experience is worth $221 to the general economy.

In all these calculations and marketing angles, we seem to forget that so many people volunteer their time and energy to improve cold-water fisheries, preserve wilderness and care for some trampled mountains. That is truly priceless and a gift to all of us, though doubtless somebody will someday come up with dollar amounts. That appears to be the American way, after all.

Ed Quillen is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of NewTowncarShare News in Paonia, Colorado (newtowncarshare.info). He writes and produces Colorado Central magazine in Salida, Colorado.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of NewTowncarShare News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • NON-PROFIT MANAGEMENT Become a powerful force in nature. Join The Nature Conservancy and make a tangible and lasting impact in creating a world where both...
  • Join the publisher, editors, writers and staff of NewTowncarShare for the annual Holiday Open House. Refreshments, food, door prizes and merriment. Thursday, December 6,...
  • 5 acres, views, utilities to lot line includes paid water tap, great for passive solar design, covenants and NO HOA. Listed by Beckie at Keller...
  • The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society (NAFWS) is seeking qualified applicants to fill a vacant Executive Director position in Denver, CO. The position serves...
  • The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success using the power of the...
  • 383 Acres with trails, private road, trees, stream and fabulous views. Earth Sheltered, passive solar home provides 2785 sf of comfort and a "top of...
  • certified, 51 acres, small cottage, outbuildings, equipment and tools. Contact: [email protected]
  • 2bd/2bath green home on 2 acres on the Ojo Caliente River, NM. MLS #101605. Contact [email protected]
  • of mountains, 22+ acres. Close to Arroyo Seco and the Taos Ski Valley, NM. MLS #102585, [email protected]
  • 2br-2ba, acreage. Birders, writers. 1000.
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • The Wilderness Society is currently recruiting for a Communications Manager for our Northwest Region. This position can be located in Seattle or Oakland. For more...
  • 1912 Orchard House completely rebuilt 2002. 4000 sq ft home and private guest cottage on .53 acres. Reclaimed maple and Doug Fir. Two garages. CathyMooney.com,...
  • with home on one acre in Pocatello, ID. For information and photos visit www.blackrockforgeproperty.com.
  • Sierra Club is looking for a community organizer who can help us protect grizzly bears and other wildlife species in the Northern Rockies region. This...
  • Join HCN and Black Sheep Adventures on an expedition through the national parks and monuments of Utah and Southwest Colorado, September 7 - 15, 2019....
  • Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is hiring a full-time Restoration Program Coordinator based in Escalante, Utah. gsenm.org
  • in Moab, UT start in Spring. Naturalist, River Guides, Camp Cooks, Internships available. Details at cfimoab.org/employment.
  • 25 acre in native grasses. Cedar draw. Year-round spring. At foot of Moscow Mnt, ID, 7 miles from town.
  • Custom-built pumice home, endless views, 20 minutes to Taos Ski Valley, NM. Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Taos Real Estate, 575-758-1924, https://hcne.ws/highdeserthaven