Numerous western chambers of commerce and local governments are petitioning the U.S. government to move forward with an Outdoor REC Act economic study.
According to a press release from The Mountain Pact, 14 chambers of commerce and 16 local governments have sent letters to President Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and various Senators and Representatives, imploring them to implement an economic study as authorized under the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act (Outdoor REC Act) of 2016. The link above compiles 43 letters, some previously published in news outlets like The Missoulian and the Denver Business Journal.
The Outdoor REC Act, passed in December 2016, mandates that revenue from the outdoor recreation industry (currently estimated at $646 billion) be factored into the U.S. GDP. From the press release:
“Once completed, the Outdoor REC Act study will unlock new opportunities for both environmental conservation and economic growth in the Intermountain West. In particular, valuing the outdoor economy’s contribution to the U.S. GDP and to rural jobs will demonstrate the importance of the public lands on which the outdoor economy relies,” said Diana Madson, Executive Director of The Mountain Pact, which organized the letters.
Passed unanimously by the U.S. Congress, including support from then-Congressman Zinke, the Outdoor REC Act directs the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, to conduct an assessment of the nation’s outdoor recreation economy and further, to quantify its impact on the overall U.S. economy. While recent data from the Outdoor Industry Association reveals that outdoor recreation contributes a hefty $646 billion to the US economy — significantly more than the tech or oil and gas industries — the federal government has not yet measured the outdoor recreation industry.
The chamber and local government letters, also distributed to members of Congress, ask that the Administration put its full support behind the outdoor recreation economy study, and moreover support the national public lands on which communities depend.
“For the outdoor economy to continue to thrive, it is crucial that policymakers understand investing in the maintenance and restoration of public lands is an investment into our communities whose economies are inextricably linked,” said Richard Hildner, a Council Member of the City of Whitefish, Montana.
“As the basecamp for adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park, the community in Estes Park benefits greatly from outdoor recreation opportunities in our region. It’s the engine of our local economy and our greatest strength as we seek to attract new entrepreneurs and small businesses to our region,” said Jon Nicholas, President/CEO of the Estes Park Economic Development Corporation.
The release also highlights a recent study from Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics, which shows that rural counties with high federal land holdings reaped bigger economic benefits.
We previously reported Zinke, confirmed as Interior Secretary last week, had conservationists, hunters, and environmental groups on edge over his possible agenda for the Department. A self-described “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist,” Zinke has nonetheless come under fire for his desire to boost oil and gas drilling on public lands. He has also been criticized for voting, in one of his final acts as a Congressman, in favor of a rule that would make it easier for federal lands to be transferred to state hands.
The news also comes after Outdoor Retailer, a twice-a-year trade show highlighting the outdoor industry, announced they would be leaving Utah over Governor Gary Herbert’s stance toward public lands, specifically his enmity toward the recently designated Bears Ears National Monument. Zinke has been criticized for his apparent openness to downsizing Bears Ears, though he has no power as Secretary to do so.
Many western states have started wooing organizers, including Colorado. A few weeks ago, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and both of the state’s U.S. Senators penned a letter to Outdoor Retailer’s organizers, highlighting their state’s commitment to public lands. One of the senators, Cory Gardner (R), was a sponsor of the Outdoor REC Act.