Early applications of wilderness economic research demonstrated that the values of natural amenities and commodities produced from natural areas could be measured in commensurate terms. To the surprise of many, the economic values of wilderness protection often exceeded the potential commercial values that might result from resource extraction. Here, the concepts and tools used in the economic analysis of wilderness are described, and the wilderness economic literature is reviewed with a focus on understanding trends in use, value, and economic impacts. Although our review suggests that each of these factors is trending upward, variations in research methods plus large gaps in the literature limit understanding of long-run trends. However, as new data on wilderness use, visitor origins, and spatially referenced features of landscapes are becoming increasingly available, more robust economic analysis of both onsite and offsite wilderness economic values and impacts is now becoming possible.
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