Charles Cooper, Managing Director & Chair of Advocacy discusses the five-year anniversary of the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016.
Amongst the last-minute DC happenings (or not happenings) in December, the five-year anniversary of the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016 (PL 114-249) being signed into law came and went with little fanfare. When the bill moved through the legislative process five years ago, there was not much fanfare either, having passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate through a parliamentary procedure that does not even require a vote. However, the impact of this little-known bill not only helped to cultivate an unprecedented group of bipartisan champions for the outdoors in Congress, but also changed the course of history for public lands, conservation, and outdoor recreation.
The Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act required the Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) to conduct an analysis of the outdoor recreation economy and its impact on the overall economy in the United States. While the industry had previously performed similar analysis annually, the BEA’s work was able to put an official government validation of the size and impact of the outdoor recreation economy, something they do for other major industries like automobiles and pharmaceuticals. Today, the BEA’s Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (ORSA) serves as the resource for measuring the outdoor recreation economy – industry sector’s production of goods and services and their contribution to the gross domestic product, sales and receipts of outdoor recreation activities, and the employment data.
While the existence of government-backed data is, alone, an important outcome of the legislation, the bill has caused an historic shift in the policy landscape around public lands, conservation, and outdoor recreation. There were meaningful policy wins prior to passage of the legislation, however they were generally small, targeted, and rare. Policy proposals were too often victimized by partisanship or simply too low of a priority on the overall agenda. Once the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Act was passed in 2016 and the first report was released in February 2018, policymakers and stakeholders began to better understand the size and impact of the outdoor recreation economy and, better yet, appreciated how impactful it was to their states and congressional districts.
Within a year of the first report being released, the John Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act was passed and signed into law. This unprecedented policy victory, which Outside Magazine called “the single most important and wide-reaching public lands legislation package since the 1970s,” included decades of work and combined close to 100 individual bills that had been unable to advance previously. Major provisions included a permanent authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (the authorized had expired) and over 1.3 million acres of land protections. Most notably, the bill passed 363-62 in the House of Representatives and 92-8 in the Senate, which was impressive given that many of the provisions had been held up for years due to an inability to get both sides of the aisle in agreement.
Less than a year later, the House and Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which was probably the most consequential conservation legislation since the Land and Water Conservation Fund was signed into law in 1964. This legislation authorized permanent funding of $900 million annually to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and created a program that dedicates $1.6 billion annually for five years to reduce the growing maintenance backlog on public lands. This bill passed the House of Representatives 310-107 and the Senate 73-25 and was widely applauded by all corners of the outdoor and conservation community.
This type of legislative (and bipartisan) movement of landmark bills in the outdoor sector was unheard of prior to the passage of the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act, which has helped to position the industry as a major contributor to the economy and a powerful force throughout the country. Today, a unified industry and non-profit community are helping shape the next legislative package and will continue to enjoy the bipartisan support that most other sectors could only dream about.
Happy anniversary to the bill that started it all: the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act.