The benefits of public wildlands, explained

We’ve all seen the Instagram pictures of hikers clad in brand-name outdoor gear relaxing in front of picturesque mountain lakes or perching on impossibly angled red rock in all their glory. It’s easy to see that public lands, which include everything from national monuments to national parks and national forests, are beautiful and can provide great photo ops, but what else do they provide?

Money, for one. Each year, outdoor recreation generates $887 billion in consumer spending nationally. You don’t even have to put on Gore-Tex and ford a river to benefit from this huge economic boost — even urbanites who never venture beyond skyscraper views appreciate a few extra dollars in their pocket as people prepare for their adventures.

But the benefits aren’t just economic. Even the simple act of turning on a faucet to pour a glass of clean water often involves public lands, since 66 million Americans get their municipal drinking water from these areas. Just filling a glass with tap water often relies on protected lands. National forests provide municipal drinking water for 3,400 communities, serving 66 million people across the country. This water is worth over $7.2 billion per year.

Forests also provide clean air since trees absorb carbon to protect the globe from the effects of climate change. Each year, forests in the U.S. offset 10 to 20 percent of the nation’s emissions.

Wild lands aren’t just pretty landscapes — for many Native American people, these areas have important spiritual significance. People gather herbs for medicine and ceremonies, collect wood and materials for baskets and clothing, hunt and fish for subsistence, and conduct spiritual rituals.

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