Quiet, non-motorized recreation such as climbing, hiking and biking on federal Bureau of Land Management property, supports more than 1,000 jobs and brings in more than $112 million annually to Wyoming, according to a new peer-reviewed study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The report, produced by the economic consulting firm ECONorthwest, looked at non-motorized recreation on BLM land in 11 western states, including Wyoming. The study didn’t exclude visits using motorized access to and from the recreation site, but did try to eliminate mixed-use visits, like hunting trips, where people drove instead of hiked.
The study is the first to look specifically at “quiet” recreation, said Ken Rait, director of the U.S. Public Lands Initiative at Pew.
The BLM manages almost 250 million acres of land ranging from arboreal forests to desert. These lands are “treasure troves” for those wanting to drill, mine and graze, Rait said. “But very little thought and attention has been given to the other values that these lands contain.”
The goal of the study was first to find out what impact non-motorized activities have on the economy, and use that information to make sure those land values are adequately represented in how the agency manages the land. It’s not about eliminating other uses, but making sure options for quiet activities exist, Rait said, by protecting wilderness or backcountry characteristics in some areas.
The study looked at how many dollars were spent within 50 miles of recreation sites.
“These types of lands are generally far enough from towns that the connection between their visitors and local businesses hasn’t always been obvious,” said Julia Stuble, a public lands advocate with the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “If a tourist comes to Wyoming to mountain bike and climb, are they stopping and shopping? This demonstrates, yes they are stopping and getting groceries and fuel and supplies.”
According to the report, in 2014, visitors making such trips spent about $102 million in Wyoming. “That really hits home for Lander,” said Stuble. People travel to her hometown’s area to mountain bike at Johnny Behind the Rocks and to hike the Oregon Trail.
Stuble doesn’t discount the importance of motorized recreation on BLM land. This study is just a granular look at specific types of recreation, she said. The data didn’t surprise her. She suspected non-motorized recreation had a big impact on the economy, the survey now provides the data to prove it.
The BLM should manage for multi-use, in Stuble’s opinion, but she hopes the report is a reminder that quiet recreation is important and sometimes not compatible with other uses. “You can’t have every use on every acre.”
She pointed to the Lander BLM field office as an example of managing effectively for different recreation interests. It recognized non-motorized recreation’s value and built infrastructure, such as trails for mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding, she said.
These types of peer-reviewed studies can influence land management, said Rick Vander Voet, field manager at the Lander BLM office. Vander Voet said he is interested in the findings because the data doesn’t exist elsewhere.
“While the economic benefits are important, it’s also important for us to look at the social and psychological benefits of recreation on public land as well,” he said.
Only in the last couple of decades has the agency started considering things such as soundscapes and the view of the night sky, and the role they play in certain types of recreation experiences.
“We want every opportunity to be quality,” Vander Voet said.
Managing land for different recreational interests is not new for the BLM. It frequently must try to balance motorized and non-motorized uses. It’s not always about separating activities. Sometimes managing expectations and letting visitors know who they will share an area with is all that’s necessary. But it’s also important to offer options for people who want an experience in a wild viewshed or soundscape, he said.
More than half of visitors to BLM land seek quiet recreation, according to the study. In Wyoming, 64 percent of the total visitor days in 2014 on BLM lands were for quiet recreation.
BLM land lures people who want a more primitive experience, said John Sterling, executive director of the Conservation Alliance, a consortium of outdoor businesses prioritizing conservation.
“They are the last lands to be explored,” he said. “They represent the future of outdoor recreation on our federal lands.”