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Healthy Public Lands Mean Healthy Economies | Commentary

As the owner of a successful outdoor business, one of many such businesses in this country, I’ve become puzzled over how Congress debates public lands issues. Often the care for these resources is pitted up against “strong economies” and “more jobs”, implying support for one means denying the other. This is a false choice. Outdoor businesses show that healthy public lands create and sustain strong rural economies and viable jobs. As we pursue other economic activities like energy development on public lands we must make sure we balance those uses with the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat so that our outdoor economy will thrive.

We as sportsmen and sportswomen are the drivers of important industry. Hunting and fishing in America generated more than $90 billion in economic activity in 2011 and supported more than 1.5 million jobs, according to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and National Shooting Sports Foundation. If we were to rank the industry as we rank other businesses, it would be 24th on the Fortune 500 list, ahead of companies such as Kroger and Costco.

Think about that for a moment.

It should be no surprise that when it comes to policy, our stake in public lands is second to none. After all, without access to healthy public lands, we don’t have an industry.

Each sportsman and woman spends an average of $2,407 per year. In 2011, 47.7 million people hunted or fished in America. That’s more than the population of California, Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico and Nevada combined (and the numbers are rising). In 2011, the number of hunters increased by 9 percent and anglers by 11 percent, demonstrating that the economic benefits of hunting and fishing will continue as long as our lands and waters remain healthy enough to support abundant fish and wildlife and quality outdoor experiences.

Moreover, public lands are a big part of the sporting and outdoor recreation economy. Fiscal 2010 saw more than 58 million visitors to lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, with a resulting benefit of $7.4 billion dollars to the economy. In 2012, national forest lands hosted 160 million visitors and generated $11 billion in recreation-related spending.

Public land use is a sustainable bedrock pillar of America, particularly for the small, rural communities where hunters and anglers visit as well as for businesses like ours that provide the equipment and services used by sportsmen and women. Yet, in the 113th Congress we’ve seen numerous attempts to undermine policies that ensure all aspects of the public land economy are strong. For example, no fewer than three “jobs” bills attempted to do away with the Master Leasing Plans, a Bureau of Land Management policy to identify, up front, areas where public lands oil and gas development is appropriate along with places where fish and wildlife habitat needs to be conserved. In short, Master Leasing Plans are a way to prevent surprises and provide certainty for sportsmen, the outdoor industry and energy developers, but this policy been in the crosshairs of those who unfairly characterize the concept as being anti-jobs.

It’s time to change the way we debate public lands issues, and pursue balanced policies that ensure our public lands remain a sustainable economic driver. Our representatives need to stand by important oil and gas leasing reforms such as Master Leasing Plans. They need to support the well-planned development of our renewable energy resources by supporting bills such as the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act. They need to urge the Bureau of Land Management to be thorough and responsible when it comes to regulations for fracking. Above all, they need to remember that our industry — our $90 BILLION dollar industry — lives and dies by the health of our public lands. That’s not something to take lightly.

David Dragoo is the founder of Mayfly Outdoors.

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