Editors Letter: Law of the Land

Here’s something that’s hard to believe. Outdoor recreation is currently not really counted as a part of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) here in the U.S. That’s insane, and a disservice to all of us who not only get out and play in the wild but also have built our lives (and livelihoods) around the outdoor economy. How is this possible? Currently, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and thus the federal government, simply does not add up or consider outdoor recreation and all the businesses based on recreation on public lands as part of GDP.

River guides and outfitters? Ignored. Shops like Neptune Mountaineering and REI selling you all that fancy climbing gear? The federal government says, “I know nothing.” The BEA does count the profits extractive industries accrue as they trash public lands. And that is doubly disturbing since it gives those groups even more power when they lobby politicians. Outdoor recreation proponents have no way to prove to lawmakers just how important we are to the bottom line—and recreation, despite its own impacts, encourages conservation.

This problem is primed to change, however. In October, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced the Outdoor REC (Recreation’s Economic Contributions) Act. The bill would mandate that the BEA account for and inform the government and business on the currently ignored outdoor recreation industry, which adds up to $646 billion in spending each year and 6.1 million jobs according to Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). It’s huge news in itself that a conservative like Gardner would partner with a New England Democrat on an economic bill, and it speaks to the common sense behind the act. There’s just too much money there to ignore.

I am going to quote Gardner here, because it’s not often I get the chance to call out our state’s Republicans promoting outdoor recreation. And I admit, in these days of insane partisanship, I would like to do that more often. Preserving our outdoor heritage should not be politicized—we all love our time in the woods and the mountains and we can all make a responsible living connected to those places that renew us physically, mentally and spiritually.

“Outdoor recreation in Colorado is a pillar of our local communities, our Western heritage, and attracts people from all over the world to our state,” said Gardner. “Colorado’s great outdoors has contributed significantly to state and local economies across the country, and the Outdoor REC Act recognizes that. This bill would allow lawmakers to make informed policy decisions to further enhance the industry by understanding the impact recreation has on our economy, and I look forward to working to ensure this commonsense bill moves through the legislative process. Congress could use a little fresh air, and this bill shows the value of it.”

Thank you, Senator. And good on us, Colorado. We have legal weed (and it’s not a big deal), the best beer in the land, forward-thinking entrepreneurs and Republicans who value going outside and playing (and, of course, the cash it generates). All that comes on top of our Colorado lawmakers signing a bill that will make the third Saturday in May Colorado Public Lands Day starting in 2017. In this insane election year, it’s good to know that at least public lands and recreation could win.

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