One of the speakers at an Outdoor Industry Association’s post-election panel discussion Thursday was Exhibit A of the economic and political muscle the outdoor recreation industry has been working to develop.
“I want you all to know that to show the importance of the outdoor recreation industry, not just to me personally but to the state, speaking with you here today is my very first public address as governor-elect,” said Democratic Congressman Jared Polis, elected Tuesday as Colorado’s next chief executive.
Polis was one of 23 candidates nationwide endorsed by the Boulder-based association, which represents more than 1,200 manufacturers, retailers, suppliers, nonprofits and others associated with the outdoor recreation industry.
Twenty of those on the bipartisan slate of candidates in the “Vote the Outdoors” campaign won, said Alex Boian, political director for the Outdoor Industry Association, or OIA. He described Polis as “perhaps this industry’s longest-term friend.”
“Polis has stood by this industry and really supported us. As he ran for governor over this last year, he produced a vision for Colorado called ‘Keep Colorado Wild’ that laid out support for this industry, support for protecting Colorado’s land and water and how to really take it to the next level,” said Boian.
The OIA’s panel discussion at the Outdoor Retailer winter show at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver focused on efforts to ensure that conservation, public lands and the economic contributions of outdoor recreation are priorities as people run for office and cast ballots. Industry representatives touting outdoor recreation’s economic heft point to figures released in September by the U.S Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. They showed the outdoors sector accounted for 2.2 percent, or $412 billion, of the Gross Domestic Product in 2016.
Nationwide, outdoor recreation generates $887 billion in spending and supports 7.6 million direct jobs, according to the OIA. In Colorado, skiing, fishing, hunting, hiking and other activities produce $28 billion in spending and support 229,000 direct jobs.
A recent report by Colorado Parks and Wildlife found that outdoor recreation contributes even more to the state’s economy — $62.5 billion. State officials said the report prepared by Southwick Associates differs from OIA figures because it includes more activities, like use of urban hiking and biking trails, and builds on previous surveys as part of Colorado’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.
Polis said one of the first comprehensive policy positions his gubernatorial campaign released was “Keep Colorado Wild,” which promotes expanding the outdoor recreation and tourism economies as well as protecting public lands, wildlife and water. He said the message struck a chord with voters across the state because they understand that public lands and enjoying the outdoors are a critical part of Colorado’s way of life.
“They’re also a critical part of our economy and prosperity and growth as a state,” Polis added.
People don’t have to look far to see what happens when the importance of public lands and the outdoors to the Western lifestyle and economy are ignored, Polis said. The Outdoor Retailer trade shows moved last year to Denver after 21 yeas in Salt Lake City, citing Utah politicians’ stances on public lands and support for the Trump administration’s downsizing of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. Both monuments are in Utah.
Slashing the 1.35-millon-acre Bears Ears by 85 percent galvanized the OIA and businesses across the industry to participate in the Vote the Outdoors campaign, Boian said. The association’s analytics showed that 12.2 million people were reached via social media platforms leading to the mid-term election. Some of the larger outdoor retailers incorporated and shared the messages and videos nationally, Boian said.
Even though the election is over, OIA isn’t letting up, said Jessica Wahl, the association’s government affairs manager. The push will be on during the rest of this congressional session for a number of conservation and public lands bills, including legislation to reauthorize and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
First established by Congress in 1964, the fund has paid for trails, city parks, fish and wildlife habitat restoration and other projects nationwide. The program, funded by a portion of the fees from offshore oil and gas leasing, expired Sept. 30.
Polis said he hopes Congress will reauthorize the conservation program during the lame duck session.
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