Wilderness enriches Vermont economy
By DON MAYER | October 12,2006
Most people agree that wilderness designation is necessary if Vermont's rich natural heritage is to endure, especially in the face of increasing development and global warming. But wilderness is also necessary for the well-being of Vermont's culture and economy.
Wilderness areas are places humans decide to leave alone. Places free of roads, development, logging, and motorized equipment. Places with the cleanest water, least noise, biggest deer and bear, and tallest, straightest trees. Places where people hunt, fish, hike, camp, and enjoy nature in its most pristine condition. Places that provide the most stunning natural beauty whether looking from afar or up close.
Protected wilderness attracts businesses, workers, and visitors to Vermont. It is an economic engine, an asset to be capitalized on, not ignored or damaged.
I have been creating businesses with good-paying jobs for more than 30 years in central Vermont. I founded Small Dog Electronics in Vermont in 1995. My 35 employees sell and service Apple computers, iPods and related products to people all around the world. The business is housed on the banks of the Mad River, a 15-minute drive from the Green Mountain National Forest and the Bread Loaf Wilderness Area. Although our $20 million Internet-based business could be located anywhere, quality of life matters to me and my employees, so we are in Waitsfield and will soon expand to South Burlington.
Shrewd business owners today know an economic base is much more than raw materials. It includes everything that makes an area attractive to live, work and do business — the quality of the natural environment, the community and culture, schools and other public services, the workforce — everything that determines quality of life.
Because businesses are run by and employ people, and people care about quality of life, more and more businesses and workers locate where landscapes are protected — places where wilderness sets the gold standard.
Most businesses today aren't tied directly to raw materials and can set up shop virtually anywhere. Other regions know this, and they are working hard to improve their environments. We want these businesses to continue choosing Vermont, so we must safeguard and enhance our clean air and water, stunning scenery, vibrant communities and schools, rural lifestyle, and protected farms, timberlands, and wild natural areas.
Many Vermont leaders have understood the economic value of conserving big blocks of wilderness — George Perkins Marsh, Joseph Battell, George Aiken, Robert Stafford, and more. In 1937, Governor Aiken said establishing "a national park or monument of considerable size in northern Vermont would prove to be of great value in the recreational industry."
Unfortunately, some would-be leaders today just don't get it. Claiming concerns about impacts on logging even though there were none, Gov. Jim Douglas sabotaged recent efforts to pass a wilderness bill endorsed by the congressional delegations of New Hampshire and Vermont, unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate, and supported by the vast majority of citizens in both states.
Martha Rainville and Richard Tarrant, Republican candidates for Vermont's seats in the U.S. House and Senate, oppose wilderness even more stridently. They don't want one more acre of wilderness.
They are stuck in an old economic paradigm that natural resource economists and forward-looking entrepreneurs have been debunking for the last quarter-century. They do not understand that wilderness is good for business and most business owners want more wilderness. A recent full-page newspaper advertisement listed 72 Vermont business owners declaring their support for additional wilderness in Vermont.
New paradigms are guiding landscape-scale conservation and sustainable economic development in the 21st century. We need leaders who understand this and won't insist, in the name of economic health, that every acre of land be exploited for commodities.
We need leaders who support the addition of wilderness in Vermont and will help business owners, conservationists, and community development experts capitalize on wilderness as a valuable economic and community asset.
Don Mayer is CEO of Small Dog Electronics of Waitsfield and South Burlington.