In August, the Bush administration and Forest Service officials dramatically reduced the government's assessment of how much recreation on national forest land contributes to the American economy, from nearly $111 billion to $11 billion. In almost every struggle between recreation interests and extractive industry interests, one of the major issues is economic impact. How many jobs will be created or lost, how much money will flow in or out of a community.

As seasoned political advocates, Outdoor Industry Association’s Government Affairs team knows that money and jobs are a huge factor when it comes to fighting to protect our public lands and waterways, and to ensure that everyone has access to places to hike, bike, fish, paddle, and camp. OIA’s Topline Retail Sales report tells us that Americans spent about $20 billion on outdoor recreation products last year. But as the dramatic range in Forest Service estimates show, no one really knows what the total economic impact of outdoor recreation is, at least not yet.

Outdoor Industry Foundation (OIF), the non-profit organization created to increase participation in active outdoor recreation, just launched a benchmark study to quantify the economic impact, both direct and indirect, of active outdoor recreation in the United States. The final study, expected to be complete by spring 2006, will include estimates on expenditures, jobs, earnings, total economic output, and state and federal taxes for outdoor recreation activities or groups of activities on a per state basis.

Outdoor Industry Foundation has contracted Southwick Associates, Inc. and Harris Interactive® for the study. Southwick, a Florida based firm that has extensive experience in developing economic impact studies that quantify the economic contributions to local, state, and national economies from outdoor recreation, will provide economic analysis for the study. Primary market research will be provided by Harris Interactive, the 13th largest and fastest-growing market research firm in the world. Harris Interactive is recognized for pioneering and engineering internet-based research methods.

The final report will include existing economic impact case studies.

OIF’s Recreation Economy Study is intended to equip business leaders, policy makers, the media, and the American people, with the facts about the role active recreation plays in the US Economy.

Armed with OIF’s numbers, advocates of active outdoor recreation like the Outdoor Industry Association and other user groups will be able to promote not only the social, but economic benefits of the active lifestyle. Civil engineers and city planners will able to make informed decisions about creating recreation friendly communities, and our lawmakers will be able to see in concrete numbers how important having places to pursue the active outdoor lifestyle is to the 159 million Americans who participated in outdoor recreation activities last year.