According to a study published earlier this month, outdoor recreational activities accounted for 2% of Washington’s total gross domestic product in 2020, while the outdoor recreation industry accounted for 2.8% of total employment and 2.1% of total compensation.
The study was published by Outdoorsy, an RV rental company, using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
This underscores that all types of outdoor recreational activities have increased dramatically in 2020. In fact, 7.1 million more people went outdoors, and total participation in outdoor recreational activities topped 52% for the first time on record, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
Washington’s land managers nod their heads when presented with this data.
But the question remains, will it take? And if it lasts, does it pay off?
That’s important to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which saw a massive surge in fishing and hunting license sales when COVID-19 forced people outside.
About a quarter of the WDFW’s budget comes from the sale of fishing and hunting licenses. With fewer people hunting and fishing in Washington and across the country, wildlife authorities have struggled to find new sources of income.
Last year bucked that trend.
From the beginning of the license year 2020 in May to December 31, WDFW sold almost 45,000 more fishing licenses and 12,000 more hunting licenses than in 2019. The number of new license holders – defined as someone who has not acquired a license for five years – by 16% for fishing licenses and by almost 40% for hunters.
That won’t be the case in 2021, said Morgan Stinson, the department’s chief financial officer.
“Now we’re far enough to see what I think is a return to the mean,” he said. “It doesn’t look like this licensing year will be that good.”
The agency’s staff don’t know how many of the new hunters they can keep, but Stinson isn’t optimistic.
“It’s impossible to keep exactly half the people who showed up for the first time,” he said. “We will return to the mean. Which is hard. “
Less than 5% of Washingtonians hunt.
WDFW, which is tasked with protecting, conserving and maintaining Washington’s wildlife and ecosystems, makes no money on most recreational uses unless they hunt or fish. Hunting and fishing license fees have not increased since 2011, and neither has the cost of a Discover Pass. For the 2015-17 biennium, Discover Pass fees accounted for $ 3.6 million of the WDFW budget.
Stinson said this calls into question the entire model – known as the North American Conservation Model. This model was largely successful, making once endangered species such as deer and elk numerous. However, the model relies largely on the sale of fishing and hunting licenses to fund state wildlife agencies, deliberately separating politics and biology. This model arose from the excesses of market hunting and other practices that nearly led to the extinction of species such as elk and deer that are widespread today.
“We have this North American model, but it’s old and isn’t keeping up with the relevance of using that land,” he said.
WDFW also receives money from two federal excise taxes on ammunition and fishing tackle, the Pittman Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts. Stinson said that due to their volatility, these can be difficult to budget for
“Pittman Robertson is everywhere,” he said. “Because arms and ammunition sales react politically.”
Jon Snyder, Governor Jay Inslee’s Political Advisor on Outdoor Recreation and Economic Development, thinks a lot about how to sustainably expand outdoor recreation in Washington.
“We need to be very conscious and serious about planning and managing outdoor recreational activities,” he said. “We cannot manage outdoor recreation as a convenience. As if it were nice to have. It’s a must do if your job depends on it. It’s a must when your mental and physical health depends on it. “
The pandemic has only “accelerated some trends,” said Snyder, including increased permits for public land.
“The viability of our outdoor leisure infrastructure needs to be taken into account,” he said.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund, signed by President Donald Trump, provides ongoing funding for nature conservation.
But the state wildlife authorities still have more work to do than they can handle. The forest fires this summer only underscore the importance and challenge of the WDFW’s mandate to protect and preserve Washington’s wildlife and ecosystems.
In hopes of broader support, WDFW has begun actively trying to recruit outdoor enthusiasts outside of the traditional hunting and fishing population, Stinson said. All in an effort to expand “our relevance”.