Across the West, urban and rural communities alike are striving to court their piece of the booming outdoor recreation industry. For many towns and cities, this embrace of the outdoor marketplace has been inspired by the associated economic benefits. The growing desire of Americans to spend time in the outdoors, as well as municipalities interest in welcoming an influx of revenue has put increased impetus on public lands and their management prescriptions.
Public lands themselves are the very infrastructure of the relatively new and growing outdoor economy. Perhaps that is why outdoor product developers, outdoor retailers, guide services, anglers and hunters and the wide array of outdoor enthusiasts are collaborating on efforts to ensure that our public lands remain available to the public.
The Outdoor Industry Association represents 1,200 outdoor businesses across the country. We work to ensure that policy-makers make wise investments in the management of our outdoors. In this case, the whole is certainly greater than the sum of our parts, and that has been prominently displayed in our industry’s achievement last year in securing unanimous and bipartisan support for the passage of the Outdoor Rec Act. The Act ensures that the outdoor recreation economy will be counted as part of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the first time in our nation’s history.
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It may have only been a matter of time before the outdoor recreation economy was taken seriously when you consider that we account for $646 billion in consumer spending and $80 billion in federal state and local tax revenue. Further, when one accounts for the nearly 6.1 million good-paying jobs supported by outdoor recreation and the tangential benefits to local restaurants, hotels and other small businesses that benefit from the tourism that public lands attract, it is no surprise that our industry has taken a firm stance on public land protection. It didn’t take long for communities in the West to recognize that an investment in public lands was also an investment in their local economies.
However, in many ways, public lands in the West are at a crossroads. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to public lands management, communities are seeing wisdom in hedging their bets on traditional public land practices such as agriculture and inevitable boom-and-bust mineral-extraction revenues. They are doing so by diversifying their interests in a public lands portfolio to include outdoor recreation.
While we have always embraced a multi-use public lands policy, which provides equitable opportunity to all uses and values of our public lands, the future of our industry rests on the simple principle of conserving these lands in a responsible manner. Our public lands are a uniquely American experiment, and the continuation of their value rests in our hands. Ensuring that the next generation of hunters, hikers, bikers and skiers are able to enjoy the vast outdoors that comprise our American public lands network, is not now and never has been a Democrat or Republican ideal, but rather a collective American responsibility.
This fundamental belief is why the Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Retailer ultimately determined that Utah’s continuous efforts to transfer federal public lands to the state — opening them up to potential sale to the highest bidder — was not in the best interest of our industry. OIA and OR on behalf of our membership was forced to make a business decision by seeking a new home for our trade show to a place that shares our industry’s public lands values.
OIA and OR have been encouraged by the outpouring of support we have received from elected officials in other western states, and we are enthusiastic about settling on a state that shares and our commitment to conserving a shared outdoor heritage for the economic and wellness benefits of all Americans.
Amy Roberts is executive director of the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association.