America’s national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and other outdoor spaces are treasured for their beauty, their enjoyment, and for their value to our culture and history — sometimes, it can be easy to overlook that they also serve as economic drivers for American communities. In sectors ranging from tourism to outdoor recreation and energy development, our nation’s public lands and waters are creating jobs and supporting local economies across the country.
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released an annual visitor survey, which highlights how our nation’s forests are contributing billions of dollars to the economy and creating jobs in tourism, restoration, and renewable energy. The report showed that USDA Forest Service lands attracted 166 million visitors in 2011, and, as a result, visitor spending in nearby communities sustained more than 200,000 full- and part-time jobs. The survey also reveals that these jobs produced labor income of more than $7.6 billion, while forest and grassland visitor spending contributed more than $13 billion to the gross domestic product.
In addition, a recently-released report from the Department of the Interior shows that in Fiscal Year 2011, the activities of the Department contributed $385 billion to the economy and supported over 2 million homegrown, American jobs. The findings show the real, lasting impacts of these activities—which range from facilitating energy and mineral development to encouraging tourism and recreation at national parks, monuments, and refuges—on our economy.
These are not the first reports to show the positive impact public lands have on the U.S. economy. An earlier study by Interior’s Office of Policy Analysis found that recreation in national parks, refuges, and other public lands alone led to nearly $47 billion in economic contribution and 388,000 jobs in 2010. Another report released by the Outdoor Industry Association revealed that 140 million Americans spent a combined $646 billion on hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, and other outdoor recreation on public and private lands supporting more than 6 million American jobs.
President Obama is working to bolster these impacts through a number of initiatives, including:
- All-of-the-Above Energy Strategy: The President’s domestic energy strategy seeks to develop every available source of American energy, both through responsible development of traditional oil and gas reserves, as well as through advances in the development of renewable technologies like wind and solar. The vast resources on our nation’s public lands play an important role in this strategy to improve our national security, grow our economy, and create jobs.
- America’s Great Outdoors: This initiative seeks to establish a 21st century strategy for conservation and recreation and to reconnect Americans—especially young Americans—to the great outdoors by providing more outdoor recreation opportunities.
- Travel and Tourism Strategy: A National Travel and Tourism Strategy charts a new course toward making America a more attractive and accessible destination than ever before. The National Strategy sets a goal of welcoming 100 million international visitors by 2021, which is expected to generate $250 billion annually in visitor spending by 2021.
While we are making progress in these areas, we know there is still more work to do, but by reconnecting Americans to the great outdoors, promoting tourism to our greatest places, and responsibly and innovatively developing domestic energy, DOI and USDA are working together to help put people back to work.