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It’s no secret the Trump administration is not a fan of the environment. But, it is a fan of making money. Pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones and a handful of other outdoor industry representatives tried to take advantage of this last week to make a new case for being friendly to the environment.
For years, environmentalists have leveraged science to persuade government to protect our natural resources. But these arguments fall flat with the current anti-science administration. So, environmental advocates are taking a different approach. One that is described in simple terms the president can understand. Protecting the environment is good for business.
On Thursday, April 27th, members of the Outdoor Industry Association, Columbia Sportswear, REI, Outward Bound, and the RV Industry Association met with the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection. The topic was “Outdoor Recreation: Vast Impact of the Great Outdoors.”
Jeremy Jones, founder of Protect Our Winters, a non-profit based in Colorado with over 150,000 members nationwide, and others provided testimony about the importance of the outdoor recreation industry to the U.S. economy and the equal importance of creating and enforcing policy that protects the environment.
Last year the outdoor industry had some success gaining government support with the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act. The Act allows revenue to be specifically attributed to the outdoor recreation industry in order to accurately understand its contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product. Basically, it gave the outdoor industry a seat at the big guns’ table.
It wasn’t too hard to sell Congress on the importance of the outdoor industry. After all, the 144 million Americans who participate in outdoor activities spend $887 billion on outdoor recreation every year. And that generates about $125 billion in federal, state and local revenue. Think that’s impressive? Amy Roberts, Executive Director of the Outdoor Industry Association elaborates, “More American workers are employed by outdoor recreation than by computer technology, construction, finance or insurance.” Jeremy Jones also pointed out the snow industry alone employs about 70,000 more people than the entire oil, gas, and mineral extractive industries. In fact, the outdoor industry as a whole creates 7.6 million jobs in America, or about 5% of the total U.S. labor force.
But, the outdoor industry’s beneficial impact on America goes beyond financial. As Marc Berejka, Director of Government & Community Affairs for REI, said outdoor recreation helps Americans get fit, stay healthy, reduce crime, and even improve education. There is even research that shows spending time outdoors benefits childhood development.
Ginger Mihalik, Executive Director for the Balitimore Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound School, said they documented similar results in their veteran program. By taking vets outdoors and getting them to participate in therapeutic sessions involving kayaking, canoeing and hiking, they’ve seen dramatic improvements in their ability to readjust to civilian life.
All of these arguments were well received by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The bigger challenge was to illustrate the connection between the success of the outdoor recreation industry and climate stability. The outdoor industry thrives because of America’s abundant natural resources and natural wonders. Any loss or damage to the environment has a direct impact on the outdoor industry.
Jeremy Jones explained to the House committee that just like farmers and fishermen, he’s seen the affects of climate change firsthand in the mountains over the last several decades as a snowboarder. “Snowpack is now confined to the highest elevations,” he said. “Average winter temps have increased 2 degrees since 1895. And that rate of warming has more than tripled since 1970.” He also said that in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, snowpack is projected to decrease 70% by 2050.
Jones, Berejka, Mihalik and the others argued that the slightest changes in climate have, and will continue to have, drastic effects on the outdoor industry. Hotter summers keep people indoors. Shorter winters keep people away from resorts. Less snowpack yields decreased spring snowmelt, which makes river temperatures rise and decreases fish populations for fishermen.
If climate change arguments were too abstract for Congress, James Landers, VP of Government Affairs for the RV Industry Association, shared a more grounded example from Colorado. He said a profitable U.S. Forest Service campground along the Blue River was recently closed because of trees damaged by beetle kill. Instead of spending a minimal amount of money to have them cut down and removed, the Forest Service simply closed it, and is now losing revenue. Landers went on to suggest that investing in outdoor facilities and supporting public and private partnerships can both protect our natural resources and create more revenue.
No policy was created as a result of last week’s hearing, but it keeps the conversation going, and to date some of the most compelling arguments for investing in outdoor recreation and protecting the environment are now documented in Congress.
To watch the full hearing, click here >
Steve Lemig is the founder of Wilderdad. He's been a lot of things over the years. Skateboarder. Mountain biker. Climber. Snowboarder. Bike mechanic. Forest firefighter. Woodworker. Creative director. These days he's a runner, writer, husband, and father. He writes stories to empower dads and encourage them to share outdoor adventures with their kids as a tool to strengthen families and build respect for the environment. He has also been the Communications Director at Road Runner Sports for the last 13 years.