Federal Outdoor Recreation Trends Effects on Economic Opportunities

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1 United States Department of Agriculture Federal Outdoor Recreation Trends Effects on Economic Opportunities The Forest Service National Center for Natural Resources Economic Research is assisting the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation in understanding the likely impact of future recreation trends on recreation-related economic opportunities. The key findings are summarized in this document. Background Outdoor recreation holds a significant place in American lives and culture. It inspires interest in and appreciation of the natural world and contributes to the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of individuals. Federal lands provide recreation opportunities and also generate positive economic effects for nearby communities. Visitors to federal lands often spend money in these communities, supporting local businesses that provide facilities, products, and services related to recreation. This business activity sustains jobs and incomes, broadens local tax bases, and helps diversify the economies of many rural areas. In 2012, Americans spent about $51 billion for recreation related purchases in communities near federal lands and waters managed by FICOR agencies, supporting nearly 880,000 jobs nationwide. The economic contributions of recreation to communities depend on both the volume of visitors and their trip-related spending. The type of recreation trip is the most important factor in explaining variation in visitor trip spending near federal recreation sites. Visitors traveling outside the local area of their home to recreate spend up to twice as much as visitors recreating near their homes. Visitors who take trips where they stay overnight away from home have greater spending than recreation users on day trips. The highest spending comes from visitors who travel far from home and stay overnight in communities near federal lands; they spend on average 15 times more than those on local day trips. Expenditures for lodging, food, fuel, and entertainment usually account for the majority of trip spending. A hiker in Los Padres National Forest, CA. Credit: USDA Forest Service The Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation (FICOR) is made up of the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Fish and Wildlife Service, whose missions or programs include providing outdoor recreation and conserving or managing natural and cultural resources. Forest Service Research & Development October 2014

2 USDA Forest Service Research & Development Total spending in local communities depends largely on the patterns of spending across trip types and the number of visitors within each trip type category. Gateway communities near popular federal recreation opportunities capture significant spending from large numbers of overnight visitors. Other federal lands located near metropolitan areas can support high levels of local spending from the high volume of day use, even though visitor spending per trip is low. The choice of recreation activity also influences trip spending. Downhill and cross country skiing and snowmobiling tend to generate the most spending per trip because of specialized expenses needed to participate in these activities. Conversely, some activities in primitive areas, like backpacking and backcountry hiking tend to support lower levels of visitor spending during the trip. The choice of recreation activity influences trip spending. Visitors engaged in winter recreation activities tend to generate the most spending per trip. Above Left: A cross country skier on US Fish and Wildlife Service land. Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service Above Right: A backpacker in Olympic National Forest, WA. Credit: USDA Forest Service The range, type, and availability of federal recreation opportunities vary greatly across the United States. Federal recreation destinations that are unique or premier (i.e., crown jewels ) consistently attract large numbers of tourists who travel long distances to visit. The high levels of recreation at these sites often make tourism a primary economic driver in nearby communities. Federal recreation destinations in remote rural communities tend to have few visitors, many of whom reside in the local area. Visitor spending in these locales is often relatively low with limited economic effects. The majority of federal recreation areas are somewhere in the middle, receiving moderate levels of visitation that comprise an important component of local economic activity. Participation in most recreation activities is projected to grow through Population growth will drive increases in both recreation participation and total days of participation despite declining per capita participation rates for many activities (Figure 1). The activities projected to have the highest percentage growth in days of participation by 2030 are downhill skiing, visiting interpretive sites, hiking and birding (Figure 2). Projected percentage growth is lowest for hunting, snowmobiling, motorized off-road and fishing. These activities all show positive growth, but at rates less than the increase in population. 2

3 National Center for Natural Resources Economics Research Downhill skiing and motorized water use occur in unique environments and generate high levels of spending by day use visitors. Both activities are projected to see large increases in use, thereby supporting increased economic activity in nearby communities. Recreation activities that are both popular and occur widely across the spectrum of federal environments, such as hiking, viewing nature, and visiting developed sites, are expected to continue supporting economic activity in local communities. Figure 1. Projected Percentage Change in Per Capita Participation by Activity Group* Downhill Skiing 6.7 Birding 4.4 Challenge Swimming Visiting Interpretive Sites Hiking Equestrian Motorized Water Viewing Developed Site Use Cross-Country Skiing Visiting Primitive Areas Fishing Floating -4.7 Motorized Off-Road Snowmobiling Hunting *Individual activities included in select groups Challenge Cross-Country Skiing Developed Site Use Downhill Skiing Floating Motorized Water Viewing Visiting Interpretive Sites Visiting Primitive Areas Mountain climbing; caving; rock climbing Cross-country skiing; snowshoeing Family gatherings; picnicking; developed camping Downhill skiing; snowboarding Canoeing; kayaking; rafting Motorboating; waterskiing; using personal watercrafts Viewing or photographing natural scenery, flowers, birds, other wildlife; gathering berries, etc. Visiting outdoor nature centers or zoos, historic sites, or prehistoric sites Backpacking; primitive camping; visiting a wilderness 3

4 USDA Forest Service Research & Development Climate change is likely to affect recreation participation and resource availability and quality. Overall, the effect of climate change on recreation use in 2030 was to slightly reduce total participants and the estimated days of participation for most activities relative to the projections without climate change. The effects of climate change were usually overwhelmed by increases in participation attributed to future population and income growth. Three key recreation activities showed sizeable recreation use impacts from climate change. Reductions in total days of participation occurred for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing and the growth of participation was slowed for floating. Snowmobilers and cross-country skiers have some of the highest trip expenditures among federal land recreationists. Large changes in the number of participant days for these winter activities could lead to reductions in the economic contribution to communities where they are currently popular. Climate change effects on resource availability could not be incorporated in the projections, but may have substantial impacts on recreation environments in the future. For example, increasing temperatures will likely affect the distribution of plant and animal species that maintain fish and game populations. With climate change, the number of participation days for activities such as snowmobiling is expected to drop. Credit: Thinkstock FICOR agencies manage extensive recreation resources, but those are expected to remain relatively fixed through The ability of federal resources to meet future recreation demands depends on future recreation participation rates, the distribution of recreation participants in relation to recreation resources, and substitutes for federal opportunities. With an increasing U.S. population and a stable federal land base, the per capita availability of federal recreation resources will decline. Reductions in the per capita area of federal forest and rangelands could contribute to declines in both the quantity and quality of opportunities for spatially extensive nature-based recreation activities such as hunting, motorized off-road driving, and visiting primitive areas. However, these effects will vary since the intensity of use and availability of these opportunities varies considerably across the country. Fixed capacity at popular federal recreation areas limits the capability of some federal resources to compete for expected future increases in recreation participation. Flat future visitation levels at these sites may reduce the potential for recreation-related business growth in nearby tourism dependent communities. Visitors facing limited federal recreation opportunities may find similar opportunities nearby, travel outside the local area to recreate, or visit the area at another time or season. In any case the potential exists to alter the distribution of economic effects attributed to federal resources in both time and place. 4

5 National Center for Natural Resources Economics Research Figure 2. Projected TotalDays DaysbybyActivity Activity Group, ProjectedPercentage PercentageChange Change in Total Group, Downhill Skiing 39.5 Visiting Interpretive Sites 34.1 Hiking 33.5 Birding 32.5 Swimming 31.7 Equestrian 31.7 Motorized Water 30.6 Challenge 30.5 Cross-Country Skiing 28.6 Developed Site Use 26.6 Viewing 23.9 Visiting Primitive Areas 22.6 Floating 22.1 Fishing 21.1 Motorized Off-Road Use 17.3 Snowmobiling Hunting Federal lands offer diverse recreational opportunities in every state. Above Left: Campers on a coastal plain. Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service Right: Hikers in the Helena National Forest, MT. Credit: Brandan W. Schulze, USDA Forest Service 5

6 National Center for Natural Resources Economics Research FICOR agencies can foster partnerships with local communities and businesses to promote successful tourism development. Recreation and tourism spending in local communities is enhanced by federal opportunities to attract visitors, business infrastructure to cater to the needs of recreation users, and visitors willing to spend money. Federal recreation managers must understand their niche across the spectrum of recreation opportunities and be realistic in evaluating the potential of future recreation participation to deliver economic activity to local communities. Communities can strengthen opportunities for tourism spending by encouraging business development that offers facilities, products, and services preferred by visitors attracted to nearby federal recreation opportunities. Children kayaking. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation Recreation providers must also be aware of changing recreation preferences resulting from changing U.S. demographic trends and consider the effects on the number of visitors, preferred activities, and spending patterns. Climate change will affect recreation opportunities in the future further exploration of the direct and indirect relationships among climate, recreation resources, and recreation participation will be fundamental to improving projections of recreation participation and visitor spending in the future. Economics in Action The National Center for Natural Resources Economic Research (NCNRER) is a Forest Service Research and Development virtual center designed to respond to emerging natural resource economic issues of national significance. Forest Service Research and Development works at the forefront of science to improve the health and use of our Nation s forests and grasslands. Today, more than 500 Forest Service researchers work in all 50 states, U.S. territories, and commonwealths. Their research findings inform policy and land-management decisions and are available for public use and benefit. The findings in this document are based on NCNRER Working Paper Number 1. Federal Outdoor Recreation Trends: Effects on Economic Opportunities Eric M. White, J. M. Bowker, Ashley E. Askew, Linda L. Langner, J. Ross Arnold, and Donald B.K. English. For more information on NCNRER please contact: Carl F. Lucero Director, Landscape Restoration & Ecosystem Services Research 6

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