Republican politicians should support the outdoor industry

Public lands should be conserved — not exploited for short-term gain.

 

Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources.


It’s easy to forget now, but President Donald Trump didn’t just campaign on his plan for a border wall or his opposition to Hillary Clinton. He ran on his alleged business acumen, and part of his appeal was based on the idea that he knew a good deal when he saw one.

Now, new economic numbers show us that his understanding of our economy — and his knowledge of which American industries have the brightest future — are mistaken. Thanks to Bureau of Economic Analysis numbers released Feb. 14, we know that Trump’s attacks on public lands, coupled with his touting of outmoded business models like coal mining, get things exactly backwards.

The agency announced that the outdoor industry — think everything from the making and marketing of hiking boots, tents and all-terrain vehicles to the work involved in providing services like outdoor guides, food and lodging — contributed approximately $373.7 billion toward our gross domestic product in 2016, making up more than 2 percent of the total. This is bigger than extractive industries like mining, oil and gas combined — together, those industries contributed 1.4 percent — and double the economic impact of agriculture, including farming and logging.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis also found that the industry contributes $673 billion to a figure called “U.S. gross output,” which measures the total value of domestic goods and services produced by an industry. In other words, there’s a huge market for what the outdoor industry is offering. 

Contrary to Trump’s rhetoric, our economic future relies more on conserving the public lands that support this industry than on exploiting them for temporary benefit. According to the new figures, the outdoor industry is growing at 3.8 percent, much faster than the overall national economy at 2.8 percent. This economic share will continue to grow for the foreseeable future, even as the coal companies Trump favors diminish further every year.

Hikers approach the Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch inside of Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

That’s why his and some other Republicans’ needless antagonism of the industry is so puzzling. Last year, Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke launched a review of national monuments with an eye to shrinking or reorganizing any they thought needed reform. This review, plagued by ill-defined metrics and a lack of public input, culminated in December with Trump’s legally dubious shrinking of two monuments in Utah, one of which (Grand Staircase-Escalante) was established in 1996 by President Bill Clinton and has gained iconic status as a premier Western recreation site. These much-loved places may not even be the last on the chopping block. 

Even before Trump’s move was final, Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert and Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop, all Republicans, signaled their full support for slashing the monuments, despite the black eye it gave the state and the inevitable drop in revenue it would entail. The consequences of this self-injury have been dramatic.

For two decades, outdoor companies held their twice-yearly Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City. Thanks to the monuments fiasco, the industry last year moved the lucrative event to Denver. Republican attacks on public lands were a determining factor.

The figures are in from January’s relocated winter show, which kicked off a newly expanded thrice-yearly program. According to Emerald Expositions, the trade show’s operator, Denver is expected to see $110 million in revenue this year alone. Utah is not likely to see a dime of that money. 

This economic power has increased the industry’s awareness of its own political voice. In October, in a sign of unity that should alarm Republican conservation skeptics, the leaders of more than 350 outdoor companies — including major labels like REI, North Face, Patagonia and First Lite — sent Trump a letter urging him not just to respect America’s conservation heritage but to “keep current protections in place for our public lands and waters.” It was an eminently reasonable request; Trump seems to have ignored it.

This trend is much bigger than the two monuments, and it’s going to continue. Rather than celebrating federally protected lands as the much-beloved public resources they are, some Republicans in Washington have fallen into the habit of describing them as an insult to local control. They refuse to renew popular programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, they reject the creation of overdue national monuments near the Grand Canyon and elsewhere, and they talk in nearly apocalyptic terms about the need to rewrite universally supported laws like the Antiquities Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

The outdoor industry isn’t a political entity; it’s a business like any other. It’s also a growing part of our national economic future. To my Republican friends, I say with all sincerity: Alienating outdoor industry leaders is not in your best interest.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • MATADOR RANCH STEWARD
    The Matador Ranch Steward conducts annual stewardship projects at the Matador Ranch Preserve and occasionally supports stewardship projects elsewhere in Montana's Northern Great Plains. The...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a motivated individual to help build public support for key strategic initiatives in northern Idaho through public outreach and...
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Foundation seeks a steward/educator to lead backcountry volunteer projects and community outreach. FT $36k-$40k, competitive time off. ALSO HIRING OPERATIONS MANAGER. More...
  • ASSISTANT RANCH OPERATIONS MANAGER
    WANTED: ASSISTANT RANCH OPERATIONS MANAGER ~ UTAH/COLORADO border ~ Looking to immediately hire an experienced and clean hardworker to join us on a beautiful, very...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty