In November 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act (‘Outdoor REC Act’). This bill directs the Department of Commerce - via the Bureau of Economic Analysis - to coordinate with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis in an effort to measure the outdoor recreation economy’s contribution to the overall U.S. economy.
Until the recent passage of the Outdoor REC Act, the federal government did not measure the outdoor recreation industry as it does the outputs of other economic sectors and outdoor recreation is an economic powerhouse in the United States.
The industry is estimated to contribute $646 billion to the US economy with 6.1 million direct Americans jobs – almost equal to pharmaceuticals and motor vehicles and parts combined.
Most of this outdoor recreation takes place on public lands and waters. For mountain communities surrounded by and the gateway to public lands, the employment and business opportunities stemming from outdoor recreation are a core economic driver.
Once the federal government fully recognizes and records the economic benefits of outdoor recreation – just as it does every other major industry contributing to the GDP – communities dependent on outdoor recreation and surrounded by public lands will gain significant leverage in urging the government to invest in the maintenance of the land and water resources on which the outdoor industry relies.
This is especially true given the great challenges we face in the work of mitigating environmental degradation from climate change and irresponsible development, and given the ongoing challenge of securing adequate public investment to provide sustainable, high-quality outdoor recreation infrastructure that enables access without compromising the landscape.