Politicians, Listen Up: Outdoor Rec Brings Big Money

A new Outdoor Industry Association report details outdoor rec spending by congressional district. Lawmakers should take note.

Districts with high levels of outdoor-recreation spending, which correlates to public land access, are represented by some of the most anti-public land congresspeople out there. (sportpoint/iStock)
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We’re finally getting an understanding of how important outdoor recreation is to the nation’s economy. The Bureau of Economic Analysis released its first comprehensive study of the industry in February (the verdict: outdoor spending accounts for 2 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, at $373.7 billion), and the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) has since been pumping out reports with state- and local-level data.

The latest study from the OIA breaks down outdoor spending by congressional district. “These reports show that all districts have something to gain when our federal and local policymakers support our public lands and waters and invest in outdoor recreation,” association president Amy Roberts said in a statement. The report also brings to light a seeming contradiction: Districts with high levels of outdoor recreation spending, which correlates to public land access, are represented by some of the most anti–public land congresspeople out there.

Using the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) scorecard, which grades politicians from 1 to 100 percent on their public land support, here are a few representatives who might want to pay closer attention to how much money recreation brings to their home districts.

Rob Bishop, Utah’s 1st District

Resident spending on outdoor recreation: $1.85 billion
Number of outdoor companies: 247
Bishop’s lifetime LCV score: 2 percent

Rob Bishop chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, which gives him tremendous power over measures that affect public lands. He has long championed greater oil and gas freedom on public lands and has introduced legislation to weaken the Endangered Species and Antiquities Acts. His district, however, relies heavily on outdoor recreation. Ogden, its largest city, has remade itself as a hub for outdoor companies.

Don Young, Alaska At-Large

Resident spending on outdoor recreation: $4.39 billion
Number of outdoor companies: 73
Young’s lifetime LCV score: 8 percent

Like Senate colleague Lisa Murkowski, Don Young has pushed to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and to build a road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. He has wasted little time during the Trump administration in attacking public lands: On the first day of the congressional session, Young introduced legislation that would have conveyed 2 million acres of national forest to the state. Alaska’s heritage may be in mining and timber, but that economic system is losing steam, as evidenced by budget shortfalls. Meanwhile, tourism and sustainable fishing are increasingly important sectors of the economy.

Mark Amodei, Nevada’s 2nd District

Resident spending on outdoor recreation: $1.69 billion
Number of outdoor companies: 65
Amodei’s lifetime LCV score: 3 percent

Mark Amodei’s major campaign donors include gold and petroleum companies, and he represents Nevada’s northern district accordingly. This session, he has submitted legislation that would allow mining firms to skirt certain National Environmental Policy requirements. The economic engine of Amodei’s district, however, is the Reno-Tahoe area—a tourism-heavy market. With variable snowfall and intense wildfires worsened by the drought in the Sierra Nevada, this region is showcasing the effects of climate change, yet climate-friendly legislation is absent from Amodei’s office.

Raul Labrador, Idaho’s 1st District

Resident spending on outdoor recreation: $2.5 billion
Number of outdoor companies: 55
Labrador’s lifetime LCV score: 4 percent

Raul Labrador has sponsored legislation that would transfer control of federal forests to the states, as well as many other bills that would weaken federal management of cattle grazing and logging. Twice he has sponsored bills that would exempt Idaho from Antiquities Act designations. Support for public lands and waters could benefit the area greatly, however—Labrador’s district boasts some of the best whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and skiing in the West.

Chris Stewart, Utah’s 2nd District

Resident spending on outdoor recreation: $1.89 billion
Number of outdoor companies: 291
Stewart’s lifetime LCV score: 2 percent

How can a representative who wants to create a national park be against public lands? Well, when his national park consists of the gutted remains of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Like the rest of Utah’s delegation, Chris Stewart has been staunchly opposed to any public land protections coming from Washington, DC. But in a district that encompasses Capitol Reef and Zion National Parks, plus huge swaths of USFS and BLM land, Stewart’s constituents could use some extra public land support.

Paul Gosar, Arizona’s 4th District

Resident spending on outdoor recreation: $1.69 billion
Number of outdoor companies: 16
Gosar’s lifetime LCV score: 5 percent

Paul Gosar could choose to bolster protection of Grand Canyon and the surrounding areas, but he’s been more concerned over the years about allowing mining in sensitive areas that are sacred to Native Americans. In 2011, Gosar orchestrated the transfer of land rich with Apache archaeological sites to a copper mine. He’s now an advocate for ending a 20-year ban on uranium mining in an area where the Havasupai Tribe’s water source is located.

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