National monument will help drive outdoor recreation industry growth

By Meghan Wolf

This opinion column was submitted by Meghan Wolf, environmental activism manager at Patagonia and founder of the Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition.

Nevada is home to unparalleled landscapes, from Basin and Range National Monument to Death Valley National Park to Lake Tahoe. Their majestic peaks fill our spirits, and their deep canyons bring us solace. Nevadans consider public lands our natural heritage, earning frequent visits from residents. 

These special places make Nevada home, and they attract outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world who also come to admire its natural beauty. According to Get Outdoors Nevada, more than 14 million people visited national parks, national recreation areas and state parks in Nevada in 2019. With the summer season upon us, visitors already are flocking to our public parks and recreational areas. Eco-tourism, while it faced some setbacks at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic like other areas of our economy, is a true catalyst for economic growth and provides Nevada an opportunity for economic diversification. 

Our vast, open landscapes set the perfect stage for a booming outdoor recreation industry. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that in 2020, outdoor recreation in Nevada directly supported 49,501 jobs, 3.8 percent of the state’s labor force. Outdoor recreation includes a variety of industries, from well-known retailers such as Patagonia and REI to restaurants that feed hungry outdoor enthusiasts after a full day enjoying Nevada’s outdoors. The industry also generated $2.1 billion in wages and salaries. 

Nevada’s outdoor industry generated $3.9 billion in gross domestic product in 2020. People vote with their pocketbooks, and these expenditures reflect support for the outdoors and investments in it. The public backs maintenance of parks and trails, the restoration of migration corridors so animals can travel safely, and the establishment of a new national monument. Today, local conservationists, Tribal groups, elected leaders and business advocates are working to do just that. 

Sunset over the proposed Avi Kwa Ame National Monument. Courtesy Alan O’Neill

Designation makes sense for public lands, business

The designation of Avi Kwa Ame, the Mojave name for Spirit Mountain, as a national monument will safeguard nearly 450,000 acres of ecological, cultural and historical landscapes. It also will expand outdoor industry opportunities for hiking, biking, wildlife viewing, fishing, hunting and other trail sports. 

But the creation of Avi Kwa Ame National Monument isn’t just a public lands decision. It is important economic policy. The designation will create new jobs and bring in revenue to the state while preserving important land and wildlife habitats.

National monuments have been proven to boost local economies. A study from Headwaters Economics found local economies of 17 national monuments grew following the creation of the monument sites. The study found that protected lands help create jobs and economic growth. 

“From the early 1970s to the early 2010s, western rural counties with the highest share of protected federal lands on average had a faster population, employment and personal income growth — two times faster or more — than their peers with the lowest share of protected federal lands,” the report found. 

Local business experts and advocates understand what national monuments could do for their community. Chambers of commerce in Boulder City and Laughlin, whose towns would become gateway communities for the proposed monument, touted their support for protecting Avi Kwa Ame. Jackie Wallin, President/CEO of Laughlin Chamber of Commerce, spoke proudly about her own town’s growing economy, saying, “Laughlin has grown as a regional leader in outdoor recreation for tourism and tri-state residents and guests. The national monument would complement efforts we are already spearheading. Laughlin is excited to be part of this process.”

Outdoor industry backs monument

Our outdoor industry has the power to invigorate communities and drive economic growth. It’s why Nevada’s outdoor businesses began organizing in 2018 to promote and advocate for initiatives that will support the recreation industry and protect our natural spaces, creating the Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition. A collaboration of business owners and conservation advocates, we’ve worked with government agencies, elected leaders, and community stakeholders to share our vision for a strong economy bolstered by outdoor businesses. That’s why we are proud to advocate for the establishment of Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, which will do exactly that. 

A growing outdoor economy reflects the diverse values of our community: protection of our public lands and wildlife, increasing access to natural spaces, improving public health, and a strong economy. Eighty-four percent of the region supports creating new national parks, national monuments, national wildlife refuges and Tribal protected areas. By carefully locating future renewable energy developments, we can balance our clean energy targets and our conservation values. 

The proposed Avi Kwa Ame National Monument heeds Nevadans’ call for protected natural areas and serves as a prime example of how future investments can protect public lands, fight against the climate crisis and support economic growth.

Meghan Wolf lives in Reno, is Patagonia’s environmental activism manager, and started the Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition, a platform for businesses to support Nevada’s public lands.

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