This Election’s Sleeping Giant: Outdoorsmen and Women


This opinion story, published by Fishhound, was penned by Recycled Fish executive director Teeg Stouffer. For other opinions from Teeg, visit The Jam – an exclusive Recycled Fish blog on Fishhound.

It’s penetrating.Invigorating for a few, exhausting for most. Election season – a season that seems to have no beginning or end these days, and the political vitriol has become the currency of the conversation. Polarizing, black-and-white screaming that makes guys like me just wanna go fishing. And when I do, I’m wielding more than a rod – I hold a scepter of power that is America’s sleeping giant.

It’s no secret about what the election’s turning points are – jobs and the economy, with a strong “moral compass” undercurrent. To say nothing about the inherent moral integrity of the outdoor sports, all of us who spend time in the outdoors fund one of America’s biggest, most powerful job-creating segments. We’re one of our nation’s biggest economic sectors, and nobody knows it.

Fights on MSNBC and Fox News over Medicare and theAuto IndustryWall Street and The Airlines never even take a cross-eyed glimpse or make a footnote for The Outdoor Recreation Economy.

So let’s make sure YOU are in the know.

Check this out. According to a new report from the Outdoor Industry Association, Americans spent more money on bicycle gear and trips last year than on airline tickets. Unimaginable, based upon what we see in the media, isn’t it? But it’s real.

In the United States, we spent $331 billion on pharmaceuticals. Do you know how much we spent on outdoor recreation? Almost twice as much. $646 Billion! (Heck, if we were willing to do even more in the great outdoors, maybe we’d spend even less on pharmaceuticals.)

I want to be clear – I’m talking about the whole outdoor-recreation economy, not just fishing and hunting. This is our camping comrades and our boating brethren. From wildlife watching to RVing and ATVing, we all count on the same stuff – healthy waters and wild places, along with the opportunity to access it.

Our passion for playing outside makes more jobs than the real-estate industry, oil-and-gas industry, education industry, construction industry. Even more than finance. The outdoor recreation economy fuels 6.1 million U.S. jobs.

Fun fact: More American jobs depend on trail sports (768,000) than there are lawyers in the U.S. (728,200).

So what’s weird is that whether you’re a republican or a democrat, if you’re looking to your leaders in Washington who are trying to figure out how to balance our budget (and get re-elected), outdoor recreation sure seems to be way off their radar.

My theory: Money doesn’t grow on trees for our representatives in DC. Oilfields and drug companies help make political campaigns viable, and that’s just how it is.

Some of those “other industries” are well organized, and have powerfully financed lobbies, so they get attention. Outdoor recreation and natural resources, they’re just not like that. A candidate can’t gain a whole lot of political clout by saying he or she cares about national parks. A candidate gets a lot of attention by having a really clear stance on healthcare.

And people don’t sit through commercials on those major news networks to find out what trails are being opened in Rocky Mountain National Park, but it’s good TV to argue about gay marriage.

So these polarizing, sensational topics captivate the national conversation, and meanwhile rivers quietly roll on, mountains stand in the background, and these backdrops remain the places where so many jobs, and tax dollars,  come from.

But take away our access to natural and wild places – or strip funding that protects and enhances the places we love – and this massive job-creating, economic powerhouse goes away.

It’s not as if those mountains and streams will be the same no matter what we do. We’ve demonstrated over the past couple of hundred years that we can make the great outdoors a pretty un-fun place to be (a burning river doesn’t fish very well), and we’re losing access at an unprecedented pace.

The smart voter who loves to fling a jig ‘n pig or a clay pigeon has an eye on what I’m talking about, amidst this crazy season we find ourselves in.

If you want to really get educated, you’ll read the report for yourself.

There’s no clear line on how the educated outdoorsman should vote, but one thing is very clear – Washington, Wall Street and Big Media need to hear from us, because we mean business.

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