Obama Administration Cites 5-Year-Old Study To Tout Value of America's Great Outdoors

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.

For example:

* 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.

Comments

You know this summer when we visited several National Parks( Yellowstone,GrandTeton,GrandCanyon) we noticed that most of the people working were non- Americans. There is no problem with that but why aren't US citizens taking those jobs?? People complain they can't find a job and as in this article all these jobs are being created by people visiting the parks. Why won't Americans take the jobs?? They don't pay $25 an hour???

I think you are talking about the employees of concessionaires, not of the NPS itself.

Anonymous poses a good question. I've wondered about that myself. Can anyon explain this?

I doubt it's because of the pay -- or lack of it.

The concessionaires really like the arrangement, Anon. They have recruiters (concessionaires) that go to these countries and charge the perspective employees in the neighborhood of $3000 for the opportunity for short term contract employment. Many work two jobs to recover the cost. No benefits and they generally fulfill their contracts. Part of the downside is how their status reflects on the resident employees. Concessions look at all employees as part timers with the resulting success.

Anonymous Oct 13 1:51 Wow, I've heard of concessionaires doing interesting things in their hiring practises before but I didn't realize they were doing this. I'd like to know more. r

While this may be a fine way to acquaint young people from other countries with Americans -- hopefully they will return home to spread the word that not all Americans are evil -- I can also see a couple of potential downsides.

If, as I suspect, these kids are being worked at slave wages with only one day off a week to enjoy the parks in which they work (that was the work schedule for savages in YELL back in the '60s), they might not be as friendly toward us as we'd hope.

Second, with so many Americans struggling, shouldn't they receive first dibs on park employment?

I'm struggling with this idea and have ever since I noticed the changes in park concessions a few years ago. But if I had my way, I think I'd push for some kind of regulation or law or something that would "earmark" these jobs for American citizens.

Yet I have a feeling that would be very unpopular with those now in power because it just might cut into concessionaire's bottom lines. Can't have that, can we?

The way it plays out Lee is worse than you describe. With the international employment contracts in effect with lower visitation to the Parks and resultant less work available, the Internationals get preference over residents (US Citizens) in hours worked. There are impacts that go farther and go to the core of the large corporate concessionaires and their preference for part time employees. In areas where responsibilities of employees have direct contact with and are wholly responsible for guest welfare in any number of unforgiving situations in our wild places, the transient/part time preference of corporate does not serve the public well, mediocre at best. As the corporations seek less liability without changing their operating model, the opportunity for the public to experience the best and most interactive adventures is greatly reduced either by their own actions or forced to by NPS because of poor performance. It is far better in most all ways when these highly interactive opportunities are offered by smaller, more directly managed concessionaires that prosper by offering the best and safest experience. My thoughts, Lee.

I need to add that there are many retired people and others that seem to do quite well and very much enjoy the opportunity to work and live in the parks often transferring from one park after another experiencing the parks and adding to the guest experience. Some tire of the of short term attitude that pervades, however.

I've seen different things. Of course a lot of retired folks serve as camp hosts at various NPS campgrounds. I've seen retired folks working the dining rooms. There was one particular guy from Florida (nice Southern drawl) who was fun-loving and remembered us when we went back for breakfast at the Canyon soda fountain at Yellowstone.

I've seen plenty of international recruits (primarily college students) working at NPS concessions. I really enjoyed it when they wore tags with their names and their homes. I remember the Finnish clerk at Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone. He wore a cowboy hat like all the other employees, and spoke impeccable English. He also had a huge smile when I asked him if he was a fan of ice hockey. I've seen busboys and servers from Asia, burger flippers from Russia, and maids from the Caribbean. I've heard of how the recruiting happens. They work with agencies that assign them. I know some hear the big names like Yellowstone, but others may end up in lesser known locations such as Bryce Canyon (at least when Xanterra was running their operation). Yellowstone may be a destination, but I think the transportation difficulties may make it a poorer location than those parks with free shuttles. I remember seeing a group of Russian workers at Sequoia NP who were on their day off and using the shuttles to get around.

I worked in YNP for Xanterra during the summer of 2005, in food & beverage. I was lucky enough to get a management position, but even that was not well-paid. All seasonal employees are required to live on-site and have their room and board automatically deducted from their paychecks. During the beginning of the summer, there are more employees than shifts available, so even someone working "full time seasonal" might only be given 20-25 hours a week. At minimum wage, minus room & board, it's not a lot of money. As employees quit (or get fired....at a drastic rate), more and more hours open up during the summer. It's not uncommon to get overtime hours in August and September as fewer and fewer people have stuck around to work. If you complete the season, you get a bonus of several hundred dollars on your paycheck. Sure, there are plenty of jobs to be had, and I had a fun time -- but it would be pretty difficult for someone with student loan payments, car payments, etc to make it on what Xanterra pays their seasonal employees. (Some of the full-time, year-round employees I met actually made ok income, but they had been with Xanterra for several years before they were considered full-time.) Add to that the fact that children under 18 are not allowed to live in corporate housing, and you've eliminated a great majority of the population that might consider working these positions. Most of the people I worked with were college students, retirees or teachers on summer break. There were a number of international employees as well, but at least in my location, they worked in the kitchen or in the Employee Dining Room, not out front with the guests.
I viewed my term with Xanterra as a sort of "working vacation," an opportunity to live in Yellowstone for the summer. I met some fun people and hiked a ton of miles (my location was good about giving me consecutive days off, so I always had at least 48 hours off in a row). If I'd have paid to stay in a cabin all summer and eat restaurant food, it would have cost a lot of money....this way, at least I didn't incur the expense. Would I do it again? Sure, maybe once my kids are grown and gone. I'd consider myself lucky if I came home with any extra money in my bank account, however.