Outdoor recreation is the climate solution right under our noses

Madeline Wade

Vice President of Advocacy, Madeline Wade discusses scaling climate wins and what we can learn from the outdoor recreation community on climate advocacy.

On this Earth Day, we’ll read a lot of thought pieces about how more progress is needed and quickly. And that is absolutely true. However, what we don’t talk about enough is what is already working and how we scale these climate wins.
At Signal Outdoors, we work closely with partners across the outdoor recreation industry who are focused on keeping outdoor places healthy for future generations. People who love the outdoors – whether biking in their local park or hiking in the Tetons – are clear-eyed that our climate is changing, and something must be done. Retailers, trade groups, and organizations in this space are doing something about it.
Conserving the places we love while still allowing recreation opportunities has many benefits. For one, protecting forested and coastal regions serve as a carbon sink – one of the few (for now) proven ways to sequester carbon. This also has tangential benefits of protecting nearby watersheds, increasing biodiversity, and boosting local economies.
We saw overwhelming bipartisan support for conserving outdoor places last Congress with passage of the Great American Outdoors Act. 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.
Perhaps this widespread support comes from every elected official going back to their home districts and states and spending their weekends accessing the beautiful places across this country. Or perhaps it’s seeing the economic opportunities that come from healthy natural spaces. Regardless, it seems like a natural next step to build on the momentum of the Great American Outdoors Act by finding climate solutions that people can see the benefits firsthand.
And this has strong support. Today, in honor of Earth Day, President Biden will sign an executive order in support of protecting mature forests, strengthening wildfire resilience, and reducing global deforestation. The executive order directs federal agencies to work with local governments, NGOs, and academia to advance forest-related activities that will then create outdoor recreation jobs.
So, as we look at policy options, let’s assess what we can learn from the outdoor recreation community on climate advocacy:
Natural climate solutions are bipartisan solutions. Natural climate solutions, such as reforestation, western water conservation, and coastal resilience, have bipartisan champions as seen in the policies included within the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Building on momentum from the overwhelmingly bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, we should be identifying more policy areas that boost reforestation, protect against extreme weather, and lessen the impacts of out-of-control wildfires and can get more people outdoors.
The impacts are close to home. These climate solutions are demonstrable, tangible close-to-home places for policymakers to see the benefits regardless of their political affiliation or place they call home. Healthy forests encourage hikers, mountain bikers, and bird watchers. Healthy coastlines support fishing, kayaking, and beach activities. Local parks bring together local communities and support active lifestyles. All of these places, when conserved correctly, draw people to the local economy, mitigate against extreme weather, and sequester carbon.
We know these solutions are economic drivers. The Great Allegany Passage, a non-motorized pathway from DC to Pittsburgh, drove approximately $121 million in annual economic impact while supporting close to 1,400 jobs along some of the most beautiful, conserved parts of the Mid-Atlantic. Taking a macro look at this, National Park Service found that visitors spent time and dollars in communities within 60 miles of a park, bringing in $41.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2019. Finding a balance between conservation and recreation can transform a community and create economic incentives for climate solutions.

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