This is the beginning of a series in which we will explore current trends in recreation and tourism and their impacts on federal lands.
I’ve noticed that when people write op-eds about Wilderness, they tend to talk about the value of the “recreation industry.” But are those figures really relevant to their argument?
In this recent op-ed in the Colorado Springs Gazette, for example, John Stansfield, of Wild Connections, wrote
“Colorado’s public lands are a major economic driver for the state’s economy with our outdoor recreation industry generating $28 billion annually, supporting 229,000 jobs.”
I tried to find where this figure came from and found this Denver Post article.
The value of Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy has grown to $62.5 billion, almost double what it was just five years ago, and now supports about 511,000 jobs across the state, says a state report released Friday.
Gov. John Hickenlooper joined staffers from several different state and federal agencies, outdoor businesses and conservation groups along the South Platte River in Lower Downtown to unveil the latest survey of the state’s outdoor recreation economy. Hickenlooper noted the big increase in the overall economic contribution — to $62.5 billion from $34 billion in 2013.
“This puts it as one of the top economic drivers of our economy,” Hickenlooper said. “That’s a $35 billion contribution to our GDP (Gross Domestic Product). That’s more than 10 percent.
So I looked into the Colorado Parks and Wildlife report which was based on information from the Outdoor Recreation industry (I’m not criticizing this approach, just pointing out that getting information from industries should not be a “bad” thing or a “good” thing depending on our views about that industry). Also, it’s probably true that CPW is not unbiased either, but that’s OK, because we can read the report.
The DPW study used a broader definition than the OIA study, so that’s why their figures are higher. Here’s a link to the OIA study.
But is it really fair to argue for Wilderness based on recreation figures from skateboarding, to RVing to snowmobiling, most of which don’t take place in Wilderness? If you were designing an economic study to argue for Wilderness, wouldn’t you want to include ($ paid by people who would only visit if this area were Wilderness) – ($lost by people who could no longer recreate in this Wilderness)? How would you design an accurate estimate? I’d start with a survey that asks “in these specific areas (in the Wilderness Bill under consideration) are you more or less likely to recreate there if it were Wilderness? Then there’s the related impact question of “how much more impact would these recreationists have, both in terms of the land and wildlife, and in the travel to get there?”
These are all the questions that might be asked and answered in an EIS, but Congressional designation is political (in this particular case it appears to be a symbolic political act).
Here’s another quote:
“Frequent surveys show a majority of Coloradans prefer to permanently protect our public lands for present and future generations to enjoy.”
This leaves out “exactly what are we protecting them from? from other members of the public enjoying them?” and “by designating Wilderness, are they adequately protected from recreation impacts?”. What are the mechanics of that? If it is narrowing down the user pool (to only hikers and equestrians) permanently, I guess that makes sense, but of course they have their own impacts, sometimes fairly significant. It’s just confusing to me that there is the “protection from people” language in the same argument as “the outdoor industry makes lots of money.”