Strong conservation policies mean strong local businesses

Guest column by Carri Wullner
— February 20, 2014

Carri Wullner

Like so many other hard working independent sales reps in the outdoor recreation industry, I’ve built my small business in partnership with outdoor, ski and performance brands. Having spent my last 20 years in beautiful mountain towns such as Steamboat Springs, Colorado and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I have seen first-hand how our economy fluctuates according to the number of seasonal visitors. As more people look to get outside and spend time in nature, visitor numbers have continued to grow. The great outdoors are central to us as westerners and crucial to our economy as independent small business owners.

New research released by Colorado College shows just how much westerners cherish their region’s natural areas. The poll found that 95 percent of westerners have visited public lands in the last year — with folks from my home state of Wyoming getting out more often than any other state in the poll. And, not only do we visit our great outdoors, we recommend that others visit our public lands, too. More than two-thirds of those polled would recommend getting out to our national parks, forests and other public lands over anything else.

Our love of the outdoors doesn’t just make us one of the healthiest regions in the country, it also boosts our economy. Outdoor recreation contributes more than $646 billion annually to the U.S. economy, and here in Wyoming, direct consumer spending on outdoor recreation adds $4.5 billion per year to the state’s economy, and supports 50,000 jobs. The bottom line is that our industry drives business and contributes to healthy communities nationwide.

Several weeks ago, I joined many of my peers for the bi-annual Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, Utah. First and foremost, the show is a place of business; deals are made, accounts are opened and relationships are built. But the show is also a place where many of us reconnect and remember why we got into the outdoor business in the first place. When I talk to my colleagues, we were all drawn to this business out of a fundamental love for outdoor recreation and wide open spaces.

At this particular show we were honored to have one of our own, former CEO of REI, Sally Jewell. Now Secretary of the Interior, Jewell spoke about the importance of getting more young people outdoors and her ambitious new public-private partnership to expand the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, which is modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps created in the 1930s as part of FDR’s New Deal. Not only will this initiative help to improve the health of our trails and public lands infrastructure, it will expose a new generation of Americans to our great outdoors and inspire them to be lifelong outdoors-people and conservationists.

But, in order to inspire and engage young people in our great outdoors, we must ensure high quality outdoor experiences. Increasingly, our nation’s booming energy industry is bumping into our thriving outdoor recreation economy. Secretary Jewell is tasked with finding the balance between these booming industries.

Secretary Jewell is embracing smart policies that help ensure energy development happens in appropriate places, while areas that are not suitable for drilling remain undeveloped. This approach emphasizes planning for energy development over large swaths of public land, and identifying areas that are appropriate for development and areas that are not. This ‘smart from the start’ approach helps to reduce conflicts over where drilling should occur, which increases certainty for the private sector and keeps prized recreational assets undisturbed by development.

Not surprisingly, this sensible approach to development in the west is roundly supported according to the Colorado College poll, with 62 percent of voters in the west supporting the approach and only 25 percent opposing it. In Wyoming, support climbs to 66 percent.

Secretary Jewell has also been an outspoken critic of those in Congress who have tried to slash the budgets for land management agencies. Here again, westerners agree with Secretary Jewell. 67 percent of voters in the west say they are less likely to support a candidate who votes to reduce funding to the agencies that manage our public lands, with 37 percent much less likely.

For us to be able to continue to enjoy the recreational opportunities provided by our public lands, we need smart choices on energy development and adequate funding.

Now is the time to protect America’s conservation priorities and support Secretary Jewell as she works to protect our public lands, so that present and future generations can continue to enjoy the outdoors.

— Carri Wullner is the president of Mountain Local, an outdoor recreation sales company that operates in the Rocky Mountain States including Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

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