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Thursday, June 21, 2012

How to protect 6 million U.S. jobs - conserve the public lands

A new report from the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) demonstrates that outdoor recreation is a huge economic engine for the nation.  The report finds that 6.1 million American jobs are directly supported by the outdoor industry, and that Americans spend $646 billion each year on activities like camping, biking, hunting, and snow sports, generating almost $80 billion annually in tax revenue.  

The report contains some revealing statistics.  The outdoor recreation sector grew about 5 percent per year between 2005 and 2011 – in the depths of the deepest recession since the Great Depression.  Outdoor recreation employs more Americans than the real estate industry, information technology, oil and gas, education, transportation and warehousing, construction, or finance and insurance. Did you know that more American jobs depend on trail sports than there are lawyers in the United States?

OIA estimates that 140 million Americans recreate outdoors.  Where do all these folks recreate, and what is the resource base upon which over 6 million jobs depend?

The public lands - national parks and forests, state parks, state forests, and game lands, and local parks and conserved land.  As OIA says, “America’s public lands and waters are the very foundation of the national outdoor recreation system.”
The OIA report follows other analyses that highlight the essential importance of conserving our public lands.   A 2011 Wilderness Society report Rural Jobs and America’s Public Lands, found that America’s wild places are responsible for adding trillion dollars to the US economy every year.

A 2011 study for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Economics Associated with Outdoor Recreation, Natural Resources Conservation and Historic Preservation in the United States found that the combined value of outdoor recreation, nature conservation and historic preservation, are responsible for 9.4 million jobs nationwide, $107 billion in tax revenues, and a trillion dollars of gross domestic product. 

In Pennsylvania, outdoor recreation is responsible for about one sixth of Pennsylvania’s $33 billion tourism economy – the state’s second largest industry. Our state parks system alone is an economic engine, returning almost $10 to local economies for every dollar invested by the state, generating more than $1 billion in economic activity in nearby communities and support almost 13,000 related jobs.

And then there is the Pennsylvania Wilds. A glorious 12-county region of the state’s northern tier, the Pennsylvania Wilds is home to some of the finest outdoor experiences in the nation and to more than 2 million acres of public land – comparable in size to Yellowstone National Park – featuring 29 state parks, 50 state game lands, eight state forests and the Allegheny National Forest. Pennsylvania’s wilderness, too, shows documented success. 

These recent studies support what Pennsylvania has already powerfully shown: that conservation is economic development.  Any way you add it up, our great outdoors, in addition to restoring our spirits, helps to drive our economy. But we must, as OIA points out, “manage and invest in parks, waters and trails as a system designed to sustain economic dividends for America.” 

Manage and invest.

Here is Pennsylvania’s challenge.  Forty percent of the state forest in the Pennsylvania Wilds - 525,000 acres (and a third of the entire state forest) is leased for natural gas drilling.  State parks – in the Pennsylvania Wilds and across the state - are at risk of being drilled for natural gas.  Funding for conservation has been drastically reduced.

Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation money machine is at risk. We must conserve the public lands if we are to protect our economy.

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