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Restoration Means Jobs in Lemhi County

Projects aimed at improving native fish habitat, forest health and reclaiming closed mines in Central Idaho are paying off with benefits for the land and jobs and wages for local families.

That’s the bottom line of a report, “Restoration Means Jobs in the Upper Salmon River Region,” SVS released last week.

That report examined more than 100 environmental restoration projects in Custer and Lemhi Counties between 2008-2013. What we found is those projects contributed more than $17 million in economic activity for local contractors and the non-profit sector during that 6-year period. Projects included efforts to restore streams for salmon and steelhead, thin overgrown segments of national forests, and control weeds.

Matt Green of Trout Unlimited grew up in Salmon and now makes a full-time living restoring fish habitat in Central Idaho.

Matt Green of Trout Unlimited grew up in Salmon and now makes a full-time living restoring fish habitat in Central Idaho.

That number does not include additional benefits in the form of jobs in federal and state land management agencies.

“The dollars circulated locally from these projects are a huge boost to family incomes, local business income, and the local tax base,” said Tammy Stringham, director of Lemhi County Economic Development Association. “That adds up to a very welcome booster shot for our local economy.”

The total price tag for the 100-plus projects in the study was nearly $40 million. That suggests there is potential for growth for local businesses.

“There’s still a lot of dollars going out of the community, and we would like to see them stay here and create more jobs,” Stringham said.

Restoration projects are an important piece of the economic puzzle for local small businesses. These are big numbers, but the truth is that even small contracts have a significant impact to our rural communities. Every student who stays in a small school matters tremendously. Better yet, this kind of economic activity can go hand-in-hand with traditional jobs, such as ranching and mining.

The report also looked at 14 conservation easements on Custer and Lemhi County private ranches. Most of the $19 million spent on conservation easements stayed in the area, benefiting ranching families and local and regional workers who provided technical services such as surveying for the easements.

We know that state and federal agency professionals in the natural resource field also contribute significantly to the economies of Custer and Lemhi Counties, but we chose to focus on direct, private workforce benefit so we did not examine dollars directed toward state or federal agency employees. Nor did we tackle “ripple effects” that the projects mean for local spending, improving fishing or hunting opportunities or other economic impacts of the work.

I think what we were able to get our arms around amounts to sort of a hidden economic sector in these beautiful mountain towns. Beauty has never been in short supply here — jobs have. Making sure that our local workers and companies are equipped and prepared to benefit from this work which continues steadily is a challenge that our Central Idaho towns must meet.

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