Investing in nature creates thriving communities and economies

Investing in nature creates thriving communities and economies

Conservation Northwest / Aug 06, 2020 / Legislation, Public Lands, Recreation

The recently-signed Great American Outdoors Act and a new report show the numerous benefits healthy public lands provide to Washingtonians

By Keiko Betcher, Communications and Outreach Associate

A recent report by the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) found our state’s outdoor recreation economy to be on par with its aerospace industry. That’s a big deal.

From coastal beaches to rolling sagebrush, Washington is home to a diversity of landscapes and opportunities for recreation. Photo Ferdi Businger

It makes sense, with our booming population, abundance of state and federal public lands, and diversity of landscapes, from coastal beaches to rolling sagebrush and glacier-topped peaks. In fact, in 2019, Washingtonians and tourists visiting the Evergreen State spent nearly 600 million days outdoors, 90 percent of the time on public lands.

Our love for being out in nature is clearly reflected in our economy, both in and around our big cities, and in smaller rural communities. The report estimates outdoor recreation contributes 3.2 percent toward Washington’s GDP, supporting $26.5 billion in annual expenditures, $12 billion in wages and 264,000 jobs. The latest RCO report also shows strong growth over the 2015 report, which recorded approximately 200,000 outdoors-related jobs in the state.

And the industry benefits more than just outdoor enthusiasts—heading out to your favorite trail or bird-watching spot can support the livelihoods of Washingtonians across the state, from local restaurant owners to ranchers and farmers.

The report also assessed the value public lands offer toward environmental benefits, or ecosystem services, and estimated an annual $240 billion is provided by clean air and water, habitat for wildlife, climate stability, and more.

Walkers enjoy a trail on Blanchard Mountain near views of the San Juan Islands. Photo: Molly Doran

While the benefits of public lands and healthy ecosystems extend much further beyond economic value, it’s incredible to see outdoor recreation’s positive impact on Washingtonians, from providing hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs to boosting small, local businesses across the state. Not included in this report was mental and physical health benefits associated with outdoor recreation, which according to previous analysis can save $390 million per year in health costs.

The Great American Outdoors Act, which was recently signed into law, will likely increase these numbers and strengthen our recreation economy even more. This bipartisan package includes $1.9 billion per year to improve our public lands as well as permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has supported the protection of countless iconic wildlands and wildlife. Much of these funds will increase access to city and county parks, making green spaces more equitable and taking some of pressure from recreation off of sensitive species in wilder spaces. Even greater “green stimulus” investments are currently being considered, both in federal Highway and Infrastructure bills, and for Washington’s 2021 state Highway Bill (which we hope will include funding for more wildlife crossings!).

It’s encouraging to see our elected leaders come together and recognize the value of investing in our public lands and natural heritage. By safeguarding our wildlands and wildlife, practicing sustainable recreation, supporting local economies, and making our state’s iconic nature more accessible to all, Washingtonians can continue to lead the way toward a healthy, sustainable, and wild Northwest.

Read more about this report in THIS PIECE by The Islands’ Sounder, or check out this blog about GREEN STIMULUS from our Executive Director Mitch Friedman.
Outdoor recreation is one of Washington’s top industries. Photo: UWFWS