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Western lands are a treasure trove, generating $256.6 billion or 40 percent of all the total amount Americans spent last year on outdoor recreation, a report released Sunday shows.
Outdoor recreation spending also fills government coffers in the West, bringing $15.4 billion in federal tax receipts and $15.4 billion in state and local revenues according to A Snapshot of The Economic Impact of Outdoor Recreation, released on the opening day of the annual meeting of the Western Governors Association, representing 19 states and three U.S.-flag Pacific islands.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert stressed the need to balance protecting pristine lands for outdoor enthusiasts with energy development and other multiple uses of public lands, during a teleconference in the town of Cle Elum, outside Seattle.
"Everybody in Utah knows areas need to be protected," said Herbert, who is the association's vice chairman. "But everybody also knows that some areas need to be developed."
Outdoor recreation is an overlooked economic giant, generating $645.6 billion last year compared to $354 billion Americans spent at the gas pump, $340 billion spent on motor vehicles and parts, $331 billion on pharmaceuticals and $309 billion on utilities.
The only sectors bringing in more cash than outdoor recreation were financial services and insurance, $780 billion, and outpatient health care of $767 billion, according to the report.
During a question-and-answer segment, Herbert brushed aside a query that his and other Utah politicians' efforts to take control of federal lands could be hurting Salt Lake's efforts to keep the Outdoor Retailers summer and winter shows. The combined shows generate nearly $40 million in direct economic impact to Salt Lake and the state annually.
"Maybe you know something I don't know," said Herbert. "I've met with the Outdoor Retailers leadership, and Utah is a good fit."
He acknowledged that the show may have outgrown the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center. But he added that planners are working to come up with more exhibit space and other accommodations to keep the shows, whose contracts expire at the end of 2014.
The Outdoor Retailers foundation collaborated with the Western Governors' Association on the report, which noted that spending goes beyond buying a tent, fishing pole, ATV, bicycle, boat, snowboard or rifle. Expenditures also include related spending such as gas, lodging and travel guides as well as manufacturing and sales.
"Outdoor recreation is critical to the West's economy for more than just the opportunity to play in the great outdoors," said Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire in a preface to the report. "It creates sustainable jobs and incomes for our friends and neighbors, especially in rural areas. It provides the opportunity to unplug from our busy lives, recharge our souls and live healthier lifestyles."
The study, conducted by Southwick Associates, looked at trail, snow and water sports, hunting, off-roading, biking, wildlife watching, camping, fishing and motorcycle riding.
Other organizations collaborating in the survey were the Motorcycle Industry Council, Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, Recreation Off-Highway Vehicle Association and National Marine Manufacturers Association.
Outdoor recreation and the economy
West • Outdoor enthusiasts spent $256.6 billion on outdoor recreation in 2011
Western employment • 2.3 million jobs, $110.3 billion in salaries, wages and business income
Western tax revenues • $15.4 billion in federal and $15.4 billion in state and local receipts
Nationally • Americans spent $645.6 billion on outdoor recreation last year.
To read the report, http://www.westgov.org/reports.