We spent spring break in Arches National Park. This is a view of some friends looking up at one of the towers.
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Arches National Park, Utah; Photograph by Wayne Spivak, Your Shot
We spent spring break in Arches National Park. This is a view of some friends looking up at one of the towers.

Good News: The Outdoor Industry Has Infiltrated Washington, D.C.

Last week, Sally Jewell—former CEO of REI—took the helm as the new Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. This is great news for everyone who likes to hike, bike, run, ski, fish, paddle, climb, or explore the outdoors in any way. Why you should care? I’ll tell you.

The Department of the Interior, or DOI, oversees 500 million acres—approximately 20 percent of America, including our national parks, national wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management lands, and more. How many times have you enjoyed an adventure on these lands? I bet many! Secretary Jewell is now in charge of managing these, as well as the department’s 70,000+ employees. Suffice to say, it’s a pretty big job.

As with any political office, the Secretary of the Interior faces a delicate balancing act, juggling many interests. This is why we’re so pleased to have one of our own in this important position. Under Jewell’s watch, the DOI is poised to recognize outdoor recreation as a leading use of public lands—one that creates tremendous economic value.

The DOI website summarizes their mission this way: “The U.S. Department of the Interior protects America’s natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities, and supplies the energy to power our future.”

Notice that last part, about supplying energy to power our future. It’s been a pretty big focus of the DOI over the years, which is all fine and good. Of course we should harvest our nation’s energy resources. After all, DOI lands are rich with oil and gas resources that generate significant revenue for the government while also providing domestic energy for our growing population.

The trouble is, until recently, no one has given much more than a passing glance to how important outdoor recreation is to our economy. But by paying heed to the first part of the mission—protecting America’s natural resources and heritage—we can support a heck of a lot of jobs, and good-paying sustainable jobs at that—in technology, product design, manufacturing, sustainability, retail, global commerce, public land management, and more.

With Jewell in charge of the DOI, we are better positioned to spread the message that our nation’s public lands and waters are foundational to outdoor recreation and the economy.

Jewell brings a plethora of great experience to the table. As CEO of REI, she managed a $2 billion company that is as committed to protecting outdoor recreation experiences as it is to making and selling great products. Before that, she worked as an oil and gas engineer and financier. Wow. What a combo! It’s not often that we get a DOI official with such a broad and unique perspective. She has the chops to understand the opportunities and challenges facing the DOI, particularly as recreation lands are disproportionately targeted for budget cuts.

Jewell’s appointment is a big deal because it shows that leaders in Washington are starting to get it. Like Senator Wyden said during Jewell’s confirmation hearing: “The economics of public lands have changed. Recreation has become a big business, and it will be good for the economy if it grows bigger. To do that, the department will need to give more attention to the opportunities that recreation on public lands provides for businesses than it has in the past.”

Outdoor recreation resources are renewable and can continue to sustain economic dividends for years to come. Just what sort of dividends? I’m talking about the $646 billion in consumer spending that outdoor recreation generates each year. And 6.1 million sustainable American jobs (more than twice as many as the oil and gas industry). And nearly $80 billion in annual tax revenue. These are big numbers. And they deserve significant consideration when choosing how to manage our public lands and waters.

When people play outside, their spending goes right back into the economy.

Want to help spread the word? Download Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Recreation Economy Report. Also get our recreation economy data for the state where you live. Take this to your federal, state and local decision makers and use it to make a case for why they should protect the outdoor places where you and many other Americans get outside and play. You depend on it—and so do the communities, businesses, and families that make their livelihoods from outdoor recreation.

Avery Stonich is communications manager for Outdoor Industry Association. Follow us on Twitter: @OIA and @averystonich.