The impact of outdoor recreation should never be underestimated. According to a new report by the Outdoor Industry Association the outdoor recreation industry is responsible for more income than most country’s GDP. If the outdoor recreation industry was a country, its financial power would be floating somewhere in between Turkey and Indonesia.
According to the OIA report, outdoor recreation is responsible for $887 billion dollars annually. It provides for a total of 7.6 million jobs. Many of these jobs are seasonal jobs in rural areas whose economies are largely centered around recreation and mineral development. These two industries are often at odds in larger cities and also with politicians.
The OIA is suggesting that retailers and manufacturers arm themselves with this information in an effort to protect and conserve our public lands. Outdoor recreation is free, it is fun and it does cross ethnic, political and economic social lines. During times of recession, local parks, hiking trails and community centers provide entertainment for the people who may have been hit the hardest. Outdoor recreation is important to American culture and economics. Conservation should be a priority to any outdoor enthusiasts and the companies that cater to them.
What the report hopes to achieve?
The report calls for two things that I believe are mutually exclusive: better protection, and more access. After many years of being in the outdoors I can tell you that better access and better protection are mutually exclusive in large areas.
In many of the national parks and monuments, there are hundreds of things spread out over millions of acres. Currently you only have rangers in limited areas or on a rotating basis. However, you are advertising to millions of people to come visit. Patrolling many vital areas is impossible, and the information on attractions that aren’t patrolled is numerous. Even in some of the most secure national parks, acts of stealing and vandalism take place within a few hundred feet of heavily traveled and patrolled areas. To call for both, means you are inviting two opposing ideas into a small space and expect both to work out.
What the report should aim to achieve?
The report should focus on incorporating this type of education into public school systems. Companies should spend their money trying to change some of the education curriculum into a more nature-based curriculum.
Companies should put their money into free events for school age children and their families in local recreation areas. Teach the conservation of the areas we currently have, teach about the areas, and why we shouldn’t push over rocks in Goblin Valley, or spray paint rocks. For example Bears Ears National Monument area has been free for everyone for years. Access to those areas have never been restricted. The report calling for more access in this situation has no merit. Asking for better protection is impossible because the monument is just too massive.
However, hosting a free event with parents and children, may be something organized through the school district, and can provide hands-on education. The priority should not be making access easier because access is already there, it should be on educating the next generation of enthusiasts before they develop bad habits or ideas.
Mineral Rights VS Recreation
This is the day’s old argument that the recreation industry loves to make: Mineral development ruins the landscape and makes it ugly or risks contamination. The OIA report is very reaching when it combines ATV and off road with the rest of recreation. The conflict between ATVers/off roaders vs other types of recreation is almost as heated as the argument between environmentalists and oil companies. Because the OIA uses them in their numbers for recreation, I will consider them part of the recreation industry also.
In Moab, almost all of the recreation takes place on old trails used by oil companies. The 4x4 trails are trails developed by the oil companies. Even many of the mountain biking trails are former oil company trails. This is also true of areas like Bears Ears, Escalante, San Rafael Swell and Robber’s Roost. The access that people are calling for is there in part because of the oil companies. We can also go as far as to say that people can only get to these locations because of the oil-based gas products their cars burn.
I am not sure that increased mineral development makes things less beautiful. To me increased access and increased population do. Consider the following picture:
The final ridiculous argument is that oil spills will ruin the environment. This is absolutely true. However, do we really think that oil companies want to lose the oil that spills? Accidents happen. Instead of trying to restrict it and treat it like the devil, maybe we should invest in better clean up technology or require better safety precautions. Maybe if the recreation industry worked with the oil companies, we could figure out a better system instead of banning! The very companies that want to boycott things because they are not protecting areas from mineral development also depend on those exact same minerals. Without oil development the recreation companies would be out of business and without the oil, people wouldn’t be able to recreate.
The outdoor recreation industry is larger than the GDP of Turkey. We need its influence, we need its jobs. My sanity depends on being able to recreate, but we need the oil too. We need better education for the next generation before we allow for better marketing and more people. We have the access; we need smarter more responsible crowds.