Every year thousands of tourists, hunters and anglers come to Cody, which has retained its Western character and charm since it was founded in 1896 by “Buffalo Bill” Cody. The visitors are drawn here by Yellowstone National Park, only 50 miles to the west, as well as our abundant public lands with their natural scenic beauty, and the variety of wildlife northwestern Wyoming offers. Not surprisingly, some are so inspired that they decide to stay. Spend time talking to the “locals” and you will discover that many of us weren’t born here — we have deliberately chosen to make Cody, and many spots across Wyoming, our home.
Cody’s natural amenities have served as a magnet for people looking for a high-quality lifestyle. I was working for oil companies as a water consultant, helping them clean up and keep out of trouble with the Environmental Protection Agency. I could work anywhere I wanted to, but the fishing in some of Cody’s most treasured waters hooked me.
So I moved here and opened a fly-fishing shop and guide business in downtown Cody. About 25 years later, my business employs both retail staff and guides, and draws customers from across the country.
Like many other towns in Wyoming, Cody relies heavily on revenue from conservation and outdoor recreation. With hunting season on the near horizon, that will become even more apparent.
However, conserving public lands doesn’t mean settling for slower economic growth. Hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts bring $30.1 million to Cody annually. Ten percent of folks here — me included — can thank the sportsmen and tourists for the business opportunities and jobs their visits provide.
The strength of our current economy is its diversity, which is a buffer against downturns in any particular segment. Maintaining our economic diversity relies on the conservation of our natural resources. Fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing and outdoor recreational opportunities are a sustainable part of the economy throughout Wyoming and the Rockies that should be considered when decisions about industrial development on public lands are made.
There is no arguing that the U.S. economy needs the raw materials found on Western public lands and that the jobs supported by developing these commercial resources are important to the economy.
But we must not overlook the fact that jobs and economic benefits dependent on fish, wildlife and the West’s natural qualities have provided steady economic growth and sustained many of our communities during the downturns in energy markets. Outdoor recreation — including hunting, angling and wildlife viewing — is a beneficial and necessary component of a healthy rural economy. A recent study by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development clearly shows that counties with higher percentages of public lands managed for conservation have experienced higher rates of income, job and population growth and are more economically diverse.
If we permit irresponsible, deregulated and unbalanced industrial development on our public lands, we risk losing our fish and wildlife, clean waters and fresh air, the very amenities that many of us came here for, and the features that bring the tourists, hunters and anglers to Cody and the rest of Wyoming year after year.
Like the other business owners, hotel managers, restaurateurs, outfitters and retailers who would feel the impact if the outdoor and wildlife enthusiasts stopped coming, I am not willing to jeopardize our conservation- and recreation-based economy and with it, the business opportunities and lifestyle that I settled in Cody for. What is true in Cody is true across Wyoming and throughout the region. Let’s not jeopardize the very resources that provide sustainable jobs that can’t be outsourced.