Industry needs a boost for BLM, forestry service budgets and support for rural communities
Colin Robertson, head of the state’s outdoor recreation division, called for more federal funding for land management as well as investments in rural communities to help better manage resources stressed by the pandemic , which drove more campers to remote areas even as jobs dwindled in outdoor recreation.
Robertson said he believed the increase in annual appropriations for the Home Office, including the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, which control over 80% of Nevada’s land, would position the industry for a return and a necessary growth.
“One of the biggest impacts my role and my office of outdoor recreation in Nevada can have is to advocate for increased resources for the federal land management agencies that are responsible for so much public land in the region. State, “Robertson said Tuesday.
He spoke after testifying before a Senate tourism and hospitality panel chaired by Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) on the state of the US outdoor recreation industry. Nevada lost about 6% of the jobs in its outdoor recreation economy during the pandemic, according to a study commissioned by Get Outdoors Nevada and the Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition and cited by Rosen.
Rosen agreed that more funding is needed to help recreation services rebound.
“Our country’s outdoor economy is still suffering and Congress, we have a role to play in helping to rebuild it,” Rosen said during the hearing. “We need to better fund land management agencies and local communities so that they can better protect and maintain public lands and serve their visitors. Without the right staff and resources, we will not be able to continue to enjoy the outdoors or have a healthy future for outdoor tourism.
Funding would help an industry that took it on its head last year. The volume and spending of travel and tourism visitors to Nevada both fell more than 50% in 2020, and employment in the industry fell more than 24%, according to Robertson. He said the pandemic has had a negative impact on guides and outfitters, owners of campsites and marinas, outdoor recreation concessions and non-profit educational organizations, among others.
Outdoor tourism is an important part of Nevada’s economy. In 2019, before the pandemic, it represented 60,000 jobs and 3.1% of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP). That’s a percentage point higher than the national average of 2.1%, said Robertson.
The Silver State has a variety of major outdoor recreation destinations, including two national landmarks, Gold Butte and Basin and Range.
While there were losses in some areas, the pandemic led to an increase in other areas of the industry, spurred by people seeking relatively safer activities that did not pose the risk of contagion. related to indoor activities.
According to Robertson, there has been a 40 percent increase in 2020 in scattered camping on general forest lands and a more than 70 percent increase in visits to wilderness areas. Scattered camping is the term used to camp anywhere in a national forest outside of a designated campground.
But these increases put pressure on external resources and highlight the need to increase funds for land management, Robertson said.
“What it does is create impacts on resources that are essentially unfunded,” said Robertson. “These resources must be managed to be well maintained so as not to deteriorate. “
This dynamic in Lake Tahoe was also highlighted during the hearing. The Alpine Lake area typically receives three times as many visitors as neighboring Yosemite National Park, although it is only a third the size of Yosemite.
“This has been magnified,” said Robertson of the pandemic increase in visits to Tahoe, adding that there were “adverse effects on the environmental quality of the lake clarity.”
“There is a lot of positive associated with this growth, but there are also negative impacts, one of which is that federal land management agencies, for example, do not have enough funds to deal with this. increased visits, ”Robertson continued.
Robertson also said federal investment and economic development in rural communities is another key factor in the return of the outdoor recreation industry.
An example he gave is that of the Environmental Protection Agency Recreation economics for rural communities. The program, launched in 2019, provides economic development funds to help rural communities revitalize their economies through outdoor recreation.
Robertson hopes the program will be expanded and increased along with other similar programs at the Department of Agriculture.
During the hearing, Robertson and other industry experts also argued for more affordable housing and better broadband connectivity for those who work in national parks and live in surrounding communities.
“It becomes an intractable problem because, especially for staff in state and federal land management agencies, housing prices are available.
near the book, right? said Robertson. “It’s a big problem from a recruitment and retention perspective.
Rosen also asked if the lack of child care options, in addition to affordable housing, was a problem in attracting workers. Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism in Minnesota, said the two topics are among the biggest issues when it comes to finding workers.
“If you have kids it eliminates so many workers,” Henry said. “They go hand in hand and they are both really big problems all over our state. “
All of the witnesses on the panel also agreed that improving broadband connectivity in rural areas, a major issue for Rosen, would benefit the outdoor tourism industry.
“These very rural locations are often the gateways to the state’s most beloved outdoor recreation destinations,” said Robertson. “But for them to take advantage of the opportunities for recreation and economic development, we really need to increase their connectivity.”
Last week Rosen signed on a letter with 19 other Senate Democrats, calling on the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to share data with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to improve broadband connectivity.
“Millions of homes are still not connected, either because the broadband infrastructure has not been built in their homes or because the price of broadband services is out of reach for them,” the letter said. “We need a collaborative and intergovernmental approach to fill this gap. ”