Recreation industry depends on growth, protection of public lands

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 11, 2014 

As we come to celebrate the passing of another year, it's worth reflecting on something we too often take for granted - our area's natural beauty. From the deserts in the east, to the majestic Olympic Mountains that meet the sea and everything in between, we are lucky to live in a place so beautiful. But we take these lands for granted at our own peril.

For me, my introduction to outdoor spaces started as a child on fishing adventures with my father in the beautiful Cedar River Watershed. I loved being outside so much that I volunteered with emergency search and rescue as a teenager, and then worked in an outdoor gear shop through college. One thing led to another and I built a business within the outdoor recreation industry as an independent sales representative of outdoor gear and apparel. And it's a good place to be. The outdoor business thrives here in Washington. With places like the Olympic Peninsula and the Cascades in our backyard, Washingtonians aren't lacking inspiration to get out and enjoy the outdoors. It's no wonder that leaders of our industry such as REI, K2 and Cascade Designs were founded here.

But nowadays, I find myself thinking about the future of my business and the industry on the whole. I wonder how different Washington State would be without our national parks and forests, and I'm concerned about future development and the impact it could have on future generations. Will my kids and grandkids have access to the same wild spaces? Will their experiences with the outdoors be as rich as mine?

Let's not overlook the fiscal side of this discussion either. No matter how you slice it, my small business depends on public access to outdoor recreational opportunities. Without it, who will buy the products I sell? Here are some hard numbers to consider. Outdoor recreation in Washington drives $22.5 billion in consumer spending, $1.6 billion in local and state revenue and supports 227,000 Washington jobs.

The recent government shutdown highlighted just how important these special places are, especially to the west. Seventy-six million dollars a day was lost by local communities adjacent to national parks alone. Washington's parks and public lands are huge economic drivers and a huge attraction for foreign visitors.

Few understand this better than Washington's own Sally Jewell, the former CEO of REI and now Secretary of the Interior. As Interior secretary, Jewell has been a champion for our public lands and frequently talks about their importance to the economy. But her job is a hard one, tasked with promoting both conservation and development of our natural resources, while also dealing with myriad threats to our public lands from climate change, shrinking budgets, and foes in Congress who seek to sell off and exploit our public lands.

In an Oct. 31 speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Jewell articulated a vision for conservation on America's public lands. She pushed Congress to keep its promise to the American people by funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which receives $900 million a year in royalties from offshore oil and gas development but has almost never received it because Congress diverts the funding elsewhere.

Jewell also reminded us that the past Congress failed to protect a single new acre of land as a national park, forest or wildlife refuge for the first time since World War II. With so many important places that deserve to be protected for future generations, Jewell warned that if Congress does not act, then the President will. Using their authority to protect places under the Antiquities Act of 1906, Presidents since Teddy Roosevelt have protected valuable American landscapes - from the Grand Canyon to the San Juan Islands earlier this year.

And, lastly, Jewell highlighted the importance of ensuring that energy development is done responsibly. While we don't see much oil and gas development here in Washington, we still value the importance of clean air and water across the west, and with the pace of the oil and gas boom, who knows where development might occur next. Ensuring that oil and gas development is only done in appropriate places after careful planning, and with efforts to offset and mitigate the impacts after development occurs is critical and I applaud Jewell for recognizing it.

Secretary Jewell should make it her New Year's resolution to make each of these goals a reality. Not only does the future of my business and industry depend on it, but future generations do too.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jaime Buyagawan Jr. of Bellingham is a graduate of Western Washington University and is the owner of Buyagawan LLC, an independent outdoor recreation sales company that operates in Washington.

The spelling of the author's name was corrected Jan. 11, 2014.

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