Sunday, August 30, 2009

Protected rivers are an economic resource

Earlier this month, we took a vacation and went to Idaho to raft the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. It's one of the country's original National Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Right before we left, we heard that some members of the Amador County Board of Supervisors were worried about the economic impacts of designating the Mokelumne a National Wild and Scenic River. I was happy to send them some studies about the local economic benefits of Wild and Scenic Rivers.

I also pointed out that on our trip to visit the Middle Fork Salmon the following week, we would be spending money in the Idaho local economy on meals, lodging, car rental, a car shuttle, gasoline, and supplies for our trip.

At the same time, the outfitter with whom we took the trip, OARS of Angels Camp, pays salaries to guides, charters small planes to take people to the river and buses to return them to town, buys huge quantities of food and supplies, and makes a major contribution to the local economy. And OARS is just one of the many outfitters that run the Middle Fork and other Idaho rivers.

The little towns we visited seemed to appreciate the river recreation business that helps keep them alive.

The Mokelumne is considerably smaller than the Middle Fork Salmon, of course. It won't ever be as big an economic engine as that river, but protecting the Mokelumne as it is today would ensure that money our community already receives from river recreation continues. People already visit our river to kayak, swim, innertube, fish, rock climb, camp, hike, hunt, view wildflowers and enjoy the scenic beauty. Everyone who visits the Mokelumne loves it, and most come back.

In addition, if East Bay MUD will ever cooperate and allow commercial rafting on the Electra-Middle Bar run (which OARS wants to do), or an outfitter starts to run the wilder sections of the river upstream, even more money will come into our local businesses from people who travel and spend money to visit the nation's special rivers. Our Middle Fork trip included river-lovers from Texas, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey and California, all of whom were willing to fork out some serious cash to spend six wonderful days floating a river in the middle of the largest contiguous wilderness area in the lower 48 states.

On our way home, we had supper with a friend who works for Idaho Rivers United, a conservation organization. He talked about how his group has worked with Republican Senator Mike Crapo to protect the state's rivers.

The folks in Idaho need water every bit as much as Californians do. It's a very dry state, and a very politically conservative one. It's also a place where people really enjoy the outdoors for hunting, fishing and more. And they obviously understand that keeping some of their rivers flowing free benefits Idahoans and local communities in many ways.

Amador County residents understand the importance of our Mokelumne River, as shown by the huge opposition to the proposed expansion of Pardee Dam. And more and more of them are supporting National Wild and Scenic River designation for the Mokelumne, since it's the only way to ensure we have a river in our future.

Maybe our county supervisors will join them one day.

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