From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 22 - August 28, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Yellowstone National Park - Part 2
environment vs. economic: economic ignored?
by Kate Neely

Part Two: What is Yellowstone worth to the general population?

There exists a broad range of economic values within the struggle to preserve and conserve Yellowstone. When it comes to value of the national park, what's important? Preserving or conserving? Environment or economy? Enjoyment or caution?

Everyone has his own definition of value. Everyone has his own point of view. Everyone has his own idea of what's truly important.

Concerning an issue as grand as the controversy over snowmobiles in Yellowstone, though, it is important to evaluate everything. A person who is truly interested in the preservation/conservation of the park will examine the entire spectrum of values in order to gain a greater understanding of the issue as a whole.

Yellowstone's ecosystem is a big part of what attracts visitors to its land. So is its variety of activity. But according to Yellowstone's Internet newsletter, some officials are more concerned about economics than about protecting Yellowstone's ecosystem. This leaves some people frustrated, as many believe that short-term economic interests threaten Yellowstone's ecosystem.

Yellowstone to Yukon, or Y2Y, is the name of an ecological national park project that boasts a "vision of an ecologically-intact landscape stitched together with a life-sustaining web of wildlife habitat cores, linkages, corridors, and buffers ... " According to the project's website, "[a] healthy natural landscape and friendly towns are chief economic assets that are key to communities and economies staying competitive in years to come."

According to University of Wyoming agricultural and applied economist Chris Bastian, who is currently conducting research for his doctoral dissertation on the economic impacts of snowmobiling in Yellowstone, people should use Yellowstone in a manner that "derive[s] the greatest societal good." To him, the value is the enjoyment that society can gain from the park.

Those who are concerned about the future of Yellowstone should consider the relationship between value, the park and society, Bastian said. How much value would society benefit from 1) if the number of visitors to Yellowstone were capped? 2) if an unlimited number of people were allowed into the park? 3) if snowmobiling were banned completely?

Past proposals have considered an overwhelming number of possibilities since the controversy over snowmobiling in national parks began. A reasonable compromise, one that appeals to the general population, has yet to present itself.

What is Yellowstone worth?

In conducting his research, Bastian has focused on non-market factors to determine the value that society places on Yellowstone. These are factors that are not based on financial value but instead on the intangible values that attract visitors to Yellowstone. For instance, rather than trying to determine exactly how much a snowmobile trip to Yellowstone would cost for a person, Bastian questions what one would be worth to a person.

Questions that Bastian asks when conducting research, in order to determine non-market factors, include: How many trips does a snowmobiler make to a particular place in one season? How far would a person be willing to travel to be able to snowmobile? If Yellowstone were closed to snowmobiling, would people decrease their number of trips to the region? If Yellowstone were closed to snowmobiling and an alternative recreation area was further away from home, would a person still be willing to travel the extra distance to snowmobile? Where would people travel to snowmobile if they could no longer snowmobile in Yellowstone?

Market factors, by contrast, would take into account such statistics as the price of gas, the price of permits, the cost of equipment, and other costs associated with getting to and from a recreation site. Bastian, in his research, is more concerned with a value than with a price tag when it comes to analyzing the worth of a snowmobile trip.

It kind of follows the same principle as a MasterCard commercial: In a materialistic world, everything is stamped with a price tag. We must look beneath the surface to find the true values, to find what's priceless.

What is the price tag on Yellowstone? What is it worth to you?

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