The outdoor recreation economy is officially a big deal. On Wednesday, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released numbers detailing the economic power of the outdoor recreation industry, showing it comprises 2 percent ($373.7 billion) of the entire 2016 U.S. Gross Domestic Product.
It’s an impressive figure that puts it on the scale of industries like construction (4.3 percent); legal services (1.3 percent); agriculture, including farming, forestry, and fishing (1 percent); and, most significantly, mining, oil, and gas extraction (1.4 percent). The report also stipulates that the outdoor industry is growing by 3.8 percent, a faster rate than the overall economy (2.8 percent).
So the government did some math—what’s the big deal?
It makes a big difference that this is a number derived from an established and trusted government agency and not a private industry association. The OIA could publish as many detailed reports as it wants. That doesn’t mean that its number could be used by civil servants as they make decisions that concern the land people recreate on. “Land managers haven’t been able to gauge the positive impacts on the economy for recreation,” says Steve Barker, co-founder of the travel gear company Eagle Creek and former interim executive director of the OIA. “They knew how many board feet were taken out, or how much the mining revenue was, but now they’ll be able to look at the impact of recreation in these communities.”
What’s more, the number gives a solid comparison with other industries. Before, activists and conservationists could only point to a number derived by the OIA. (The equivalent of Exxon Mobil touting all the great things that the American Petroleum Institute said about the industry.) Now, the industry knows where it stands. “In the past we haven’t been recognized as a viable part of the economy,” Barker says. “Now we can show that we are, and that we’re growing faster than the overall economy.”