The Obama Administration is touting the economic benefits of the great outdoors ... but the lion's share of that clout is based on a five-year-old study.
Of course, that could be good news, as the economics tied to our collective pursuit of the great outdoors could be even more than the $730 billion the Outdoor Industry Association pointed to in its 2006 study, The Active Outdoor Recreation Economy. Or, in light of the recession, it also could be less.
Interior Department officials trotted out the economic news Wednesday to detail "how the President’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative is opening up access to lands and waters, restoring critical landscapes, reconnecting Americans to the natural world, and supporting thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity."
In a press release, DOI said national parks are luring more than 280 million visitors (but they didn't mention that the 281,303,769 recreational tally for 2010 was down some 4.2 million from 2009), visitors who generated $12 billion in spending and created nearly a quarter-million jobs.
As for that Outdoor Industry Association report, when it came out in the fall of 2006 (during the Bush administration) it noted that "hiking, biking, camping, and wildlife viewing," along with other outdoor pursuits, contributed $730 billion to the U.S. economy, provided for roughly 6.5 million jobs, and generated $289 billion a year in retail sales and services.
DOI reiterated those numbers Wednesday, without citing the date of the report or offering any insights into how the economics of the outdoors might have changed during the course of the past economically challenging five years.
In holding up their findings, Interior officials said 15 federal agencies "outlined their combined conservation and recreation successes, including gains in youth employment, new trail designations, the creation of urban campgrounds, and historic investments in large landscapes such as the Everglades."
“The quality and accessibility of our outdoor spaces have a significant impact on the economic and physical health of American communities,” said Nancy Sutley, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. “Actions under the America’s Great Outdoors initiative are reinvigorating a national discussion about the value of conservation, resulting in smart, innovative strategies and investments that respond to the priorities of American communities.”
Added Interior Secretary Ken Salazar: “Easy access to quality outdoor recreation areas is something that all Americans should enjoy – whether they are young or old, live in rural or urban areas, and no matter how take advantage of the natural world. Under the banner of America’s Great Outdoors, President Obama has made it clear that conservation is a priority for this administration. We will continue to invest in land and water projects that have the backing of communities who depend on the job-creating power of the outdoor economy.”
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson weighed in, too, saying that through the America's Great Outdoors initiative, "we're reconnecting Americans with the great outdoors and helping to put local residents to work cleaning up the areas that they cherish. In preserving their environment, Americans are creating healthier, more vibrant communities today and ensuring lasting prosperity for future generations."
The outdoors initiative was launched by the Obama Administration in April 2010 "to foster a 21st century approach to conservation that is designed by and accomplished in partnership with the American people," the Interior release noted.
In February, the Council on Environmental Quality, Interior Department, Agriculture Department, and EPA presented an AGO report to the president outlining a conservation action plan using input received from more than 100,000 public comments and 51 public listening sessions across the country, the release added.
The Progress Report released Wednesday, said Interior, describes how agencies are working together and with private sector, non-profit and community partners to leverage resources and deliver on-the-ground results for Americans.
* USDA announced $100 million in landowner agreements with farmers and ranchers to restore wetlands and permanently conserve nearly 24,000 acres of agricultural land in the Northern Everglades.
* EPA awarded nearly $30 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants, including funds to groom Chicago’s 24 beaches on a daily basis and build a protective barrier to make swimming areas cleaner. These actions should result in fewer swimming bans and advisories due to contamination.
* DOI worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to designate 41 National Recreation Trails stretching across 17 states, adding 650 miles to the national trails system.
* USDA improved access for hunting by enrolling eight additional states and one tribe in the “Open Fields” Voluntary Public Access Program, which works with states to provide landowners with incentives to expand lands available for hunting.
* Federal agencies and partners worked together to provide more than 50,000 young people with paid work and service learning opportunities on public lands and waters over the past two years.
* DOI and USACE worked together to designate three new National Water Trails including the Lake Michigan National Water Trail in Illinois and Indiana, the Quinebaug River Water Trail in Connecticut, and the Susquehanna River Water Trail in Pennsylvania.
* Led by EPA, USDA, DOI and the Department of Housing and Urban Developmen, 11 agencies came together to form the federal Urban Waters Partnership, leveraging federal funds to revitalize urban waters and surrounding communities through pilot projects in seven initial cities.
* USDA worked with other federal agencies to launch new landscape-scale projects in Saginaw Bay, Michigan; Monterey Bay, California; and the Lake Champlain area in New York and Vermont, investing $3.5 million to underwrite conservation activities on working lands based on extensive stakeholder input.
In the year ahead, agencies will collaborate on new initiatives including:
* Landscape-scale conservation in the longleaf pine ecosystem, the grasslands of the northern Great Plains, the Crown of the Continent in the northern Rockies, the southwest deserts, and the northern forests of New England and New York.
* Pilot projects that bring together agency resources to increase access to urban parks and waterways.
* Public-private partnerships that will deliver on-the-ground conservation and restoration outcomes across America’s military installations, national forests, national wildlife refuges, state lands, and working private lands.
* Additionally, the Department of the Interior will soon release a 50-state report outlining 100 locally-supported outdoor initiatives that promise to reconnect Americans to the natural world as part of AGO. The projects identified in the forthcoming report will represent what states believe are among the best investments in the nation to support a healthy, active population, and create travel, tourism and outdoor recreation jobs across the country.