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Here are some words that don’t normally catch my attention: “accounting”, “economic”, “politicians”, “legislation”. I like the words “outdoor”, “act”, “Nature”, “recreation”, and “travel”, much better. Strangely ALL of these words came together in December while most of us were recovering from Thanksgiving and shopping for the December holidays. Curious? Let me explain.

While we were all in our food comas, a bipartisan (really, I kid you not) bill passed that is worthy of celebrating. The Outdoor Recreation Economic Contributions Act is a mouthful, but it’s far outside the usual box we use to make decisions about how to use the outdoor spaces in this country.

The Outdoor Recreation Economic Contributions Act means that outdoor recreation will be counted for its economic impact. Things like hiking, surfing, boating, climbing, tourism, biking, canoeing, and fishing will now be factored in for their contribution to the economy. All the money having to do with the outdoor industry, like money spent on rafting guides, manufacturing hiking boots, sales of kayaks, visitors fees…everything that goes into outdoor recreation…will be counted. It turns out that when it’s all added up, it’s a huge industry, somewhere in the neighborhood of $646 billion spent a year. (If you’re like me, you’ve never counted that much money so to help you wrap your brain around that number, it’s about the same as the pharmaceuticals, motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts industries combined, according to the outgoing Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewel). It provides over 6 million jobs, often in rural areas, and half of us spend time recreating outdoors each year.

So what does needing to factor in the ‘eco’—nomic contributions of outdoor recreation mean? In the past, it’s been very easy to only focus on the obvious big, money-making industries (oil, real estate, etc.) when making decisions about how we use ‘unused’ lands. The land was just sitting there appearing to have no other value except for various extractive purposes. But, since you need the outdoors for outdoor recreation, and that turns out to be a pretty big industry too, Mother Nature now has a seat at the table!

Terry Lawson Dunn, Founder

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