On Friday, President Obama signed the bipartisan Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact (REC) Act, instructing the Department of Commerce and federal land management agencies to provide statistics on how the outdoor industry contributes to the U.S. economy. On behalf of sportsmen and women across the state of Minnesota, I’d like to thank the president, as well as U.S. Reps. Tim Walz and Erik Paulsen, and the other sponsors of the Outdoor REC Act.
So why was this bill put forward, and why does it matter? Many industries, such as automotive, pharmaceutical or agriculture, already are tracked and measured by the Commerce Department to determine their effect on the economy. Until now, the outdoor recreational industry hasn’t had the same level of assessment and analysis. For this reason, organizations like the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters have supported the passing of this bill.
Recreation is just one of the many uses of public lands. Industries related to forest products, timber, oil, gas, minerals and others have had the benefit of quantifiable economic measures, and now the outdoor recreation industry will, too. Independent estimates show that the outdoor recreation industry contributes approximately $646 billion to U.S. gross domestic product and supports 6.1 million jobs, but it’s not an official government figure. In Minnesota, those estimates show the economic value of outdoor recreation generating $11.6 billion in consumer spending, $3.4 billion in wages and salaries, $815 million in state and local tax revenue, and supporting 118,000 jobs.
It’s crucial to understand the full impact of recreational use when considering management of federal and state forests.
As a lifelong sportsman from Minnesota, I know how important public lands and waters are to fishing and hunting. Many who participate in these activities can relate to the Latin origins of the word recreation, which is to “create again” or “renew.” Places like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness provide a place to obtain that sense of renewal while casting a line for smallmouth bass or swinging the shotgun barrel to a ruffed grouse that just rose from its hiding place. And while this experience is the reason for the activity, its benefit doesn’t have a quantifiable value. However, the financial impact that hunters and fishermen have every time they stop into the sporting goods store or head Up North for an outing will now be measured.
I also see the value as a small-business owner who works with other businesses dependent upon this $646 billion (or more) in annual spending. Outdoor companies, whether they manufacture a product or provide a service, drive significant value for our economy. They should have equal footing with other industries that often compete for the same resources.
I’ve grown to greatly appreciate the hardworking people in the outdoor recreation industry. The tireless work they put into helping their customers or guests have a great outdoor experience is impressive. Whether it’s a recreational product they manufacture in a large city, or a service provided by a small mom-and-pop outfit in the North Woods, there is significant value being created every hour of every day.
It is fitting that in this age of partisan rancor and political gridlock, one of the things both parties can agree on is the significance the outdoors has in our lives, and the belief that we should better understand its multilayered value. The outdoors brings us together. When you’re on the trail hunting, fishing or just enjoying the wilderness around you, the rest of the world’s concerns fall away and you’re able to engage fully in the freedom of the moment. With the passage of this act, we’ll now be able to know what with greater certainty the economic value of those moments, which will help guide policymakers as they make decisions on the best use for our public lands.
Mark Norquist is a board member for the Minnesota Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and a member of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters.