Government spending totals $34 billion

By Jessianne Castle EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – A new report released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates that the outdoor recreation economy grew 1.7 percent in 2016, which was faster than the 1.6 percent growth for the overall economy.

The report also indicates that total government expenditures in the industry totaled $34 billion that year, with $4 billion coming from federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior, while the remaining $30 billion came from state and local government.

The BEA produces data for the public about the nation’s economy, to include statistics like gross domestic product, in order to assist government and business decision makers. These economic statistics provide a comprehensive, up-to-date picture of the U.S. economy and impact monetary policy, tax and budget projections.

Headwaters Economics in Bozeman assisted with this report, which was published Sept. 20 after an initial draft was released for review in February.

“Outdoor recreation is a massive industry, it’s larger than pharmaceutical sales,” said Headwaters Economics Executive Director Ray Rasker, who served as a contractor and advisor to the BEA for this analysis. Rasker added that the outdoor industry is 2 percent of GDP and within the West, it accounts for 1.9 million jobs.

“Federal lands, specifically, create about $51 billion in outdoor expenditures. We have 143 million Americans participating in outdoor recreation,” he said.

In the report, outdoor recreation is broken into three categories, with spending, or gross output, broken down accordingly. Conventional core activities, like bicycling, hiking and hunting, amounted to 32.7 percent of gross output; other core activities, such as gardening or outdoor concerts accounted for 19.3 percent; while supporting activities that include construction, travel and government expenditures, made up for the remaining 47.9 percent.

With a booming outdoor economy, Rasker said the importance of public lands is ever growing: “The values of public lands are diverse. It’s not just resource extraction versus recreation. There are dozens of other ways we can talk about values.” He went on to describe other attributes, like increased quality of life, access to drinking water, and nature’s ability to engage youth.

Rasker added that many businesses use outdoor recreation and beautiful views as a tool for recruitment, which has become all the more accessible as technology changes and society becomes more connected.

“Much of the story is uncovered when you start looking at the data. It’s really fascinating to visit with business leaders and say, ‘Why are you here?’ and learn the role public lands play,” he said.

Visit bea.gov to view the full report.