Recent research by Headwaters Economics asked whether federal lands are an economic liability or an asset to rural communities (summarized in this opinion piece).
On average, we find that from 1970-2014, rural counties with the most federal land grew much faster than similar counties with the least federal land: population grew four times faster, employment grew three times faster and personal income grew twice as fast. Per capita income grew slightly more in places with more federal lands.
This analysis suggests that, in general, federal lands do not inhibit a community’s economic growth. On the contrary, the research suggests these lands have the potential to contribute to a prosperous rural economy.
You can always pick on the details of economic analysis, but here is what this tells me about the big picture. While there will always be winners and losers, it’s hard to argue that the presence of federal lands is a big reason for the losers.