Is nature good business?

Economist to present ideas next week at Durango roundtable

Michelle Haefele, from The Wilderness Society’s Central Rockies regional office, will be in Durango on Wednesday to talk about how towns benefit economically from being close to wilderness. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Michelle Haefele

Michelle Haefele, from The Wilderness Society’s Central Rockies regional office, will be in Durango on Wednesday to talk about how towns benefit economically from being close to wilderness.

The proximity to public lands can be good for business and development in nearby communities, a Wilderness Society economist says.

Michelle Haefele, who works in the society’s Central Rockies regional office in Denver, is scheduled to explain to Green Business Roundtable lunchers Wednesday how La Plata County can benefit from its public lands – wilderness and otherwise.

In a telephone conversation Wednesday, Haefele cited the case of Taft, Calif., a gritty oil town near Bakersfield that helped promote Carrizo Plain National Monument next door.

Carrizo Plain is 250,000 acres of grasslands, traversed by the San Andreas Fault, that sustain diverse wildlife and plants. Soda Lake, a basin of white salt and the focal point of the region, is important to Native American tribes. President Clinton proclaimed the monument in January 2001.

“In 2007, we did a report on Taft, looking at how its assets correlated to communities in California and the United States based on indicators developed by the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank,” Haefele said. “We were pleased to see the town support the promotion of the monument,”

The city of Taft, a gateway to the preserve scant miles to its west, will host a visitors center, she said.

Among assets that bring business and development to a community are the quality of infrastructure, the skill of the workforce and the level of entrepreneurship, Haefele said.

Amenities such as the number of restaurants and the level of health care and quality of its providers also count, Haefele said. Natural features – topography, weather and access to recreation – are important, too, she said.

“These factors correlate with residents with higher jobs skills and income,” Haefele said. “These factors in turn attract business and development.”

Haefele will have suggestions about how La Plata County can evaluate its asset. She also will answer questions.

“We can discuss the correlation between public lands and economic factors other than extractive uses,” Haefele said. “These are elements that contribute to the quality of life and attract business.”

La Plata County has a surplus of skilled, educated and creative workers, Haefele said.

A potential employer will see La Plata County as a pleasant place to do business and a nice place for its employees, she said.

Haefele earned a degree in natural resources management at Colorado State University, a master’s in natural and environmentral resources economics at Duke University and a doctorate in the same field back at Colorado State.

daler@ durangoherald.com