Economic impacts of mining reach deep

“There’s no reason to threaten a functioning economy…”

A study prepared by the Sonoran Institute released this week concludes that it is “essential” that Crested Butte has input regarding mining on nearby federal lands. “The best way to ensure local input is to reform the 1872 Mining Law,” the report states.
The report, conducted as part of a few national case studies looking at mining and its impacts on current economies of existing towns, admits that proposed mining activities on federal lands in the Crested Butte area “could offer important economic benefits in the form of employment, business purchases and taxes paid to local governments.”


But the report goes on to state, “If not done responsibly, mining could also generate significant costs in the form of decreased revenues from outdoor recreation tourism, decreased property values, habitat destruction, surface and groundwater impacts and permanent environmental degradation. These could displace significant components of the local amenity and knowledge economy and seriously impact sustainability of the local economy long after mining has ceased and its positive economic impacts have dissipated.”
The report’s author, Joe Marlow, is a resource economist for the Sonoran Institute. “The local economies of Crested Butte and Gunnison County exemplify the changing economy of the West,” he said. “People are moving to the rural West to live and work primarily due to quality of life considerations. Given the abundance of protected public lands and recreational activities in the area, it starts with tourism, but quickly evolves into more permanent economic activity including second home building and local entrepreneurship.”
High Country Citizens’ Alliance public lands director Dan Morse said it is obvious from this study that the mining laws must be changed in order to protect communities like Crested Butte. “This report shows exactly why the 1872 Mining Law should not continue to prioritize mining above all other uses,” said Morse. “The federal mining law must be reformed to recognize that the west has become a very different place in the last 136 years and mining is not always the most economically beneficial use of our public lands.”
The detailed 31-page report looks at the Crested Butte and Gunnison area in a socio-economic forum. It ties almost 40 percent of the jobs in the county to tourism. It indicates the importance of tourism and related economies such as construction and second-home ownership, particularly in the Crested Butte area. That area around Crested Butte also has the greater proportion of high-income households in the county. The report also shows that self-employment income is more than twice as important in the Crested Butte area as in Gunnison.
When surveyed about the value issues important to Gunnison County residents, more than 90 percent of those responding said water and air quality were most important. Other values receiving high scores include the scenic quality of the area, wildlife habitat, the local economy and sense of community. When second-home owners listed why they purchased property in the county, scenery and recreational amenities topped the list.
Marlow’s analysis shows that if the proposed Lucky Jack mine operations displaced only a small percentage of travel- and tourism-related spending in the region, the economic loss could be significant. “This is a risk that should be carefully considered by the communities and decision makers in the region,” he said.
Lucky Jack is a proposed molybdenum mine on Mt. Emmons just west of Crested Butte.
“Our concern is that adequate consideration has not been given to the potential disruption to local economies by a major new mining operation in the Crested Butte area, along with the setback this could pose to progress these communities have made over the years to reinvent and diversify their economic base,” Marlow added.
Crested Butte mayor Alan Bernholtz agreed. “The Town Council’s first priority is to protect the community’s best interests,” he said. “I believe that the report clearly shows that a mine would not have the beneficial economic effects that some in the community may have previously thought.”
Crested Butte-Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce executive director Christi Matthews sees the same conclusion. “The study by the Sonoran Institute makes it very clear that the amenity and emerging knowledge-based sectors are the most significant components of our local economy,” said Matthews. “A mine on Mt. Emmons would destroy these fundamentals of our economy and cause irreparable harm to our businesses.”
The red flag in the report makes it clear that mining can change the reasons people have been coming here for decades.
“The result of the study would have been a much different mix even in the 1970s,” explained Morse. “But now, the visitors and second-home owners bring so much of the money that is valuable to our economy. In this case, with the proposed Lucky Jack project, a successful economy would be threatened. There really is no rational reason to threaten a functioning and successful economy.”
The complete study can be found on the Sonoran Institute website at

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