It's no surprise to anyone who's set foot in an REI that outdoor recreation is big business, but thanks to a rare show of congressional unity, we're about to find out exactly how big. The Denver Post reports the Rec Act was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate last month. And it was signed into law by President Obama this week, Outside reports. Through the Rec Act, the Bureau of Economic Analysis will come up with official numbers for the outdoor recreation industry's economic impact. That includes its contribution to the GDP, how many jobs it creates, and the consumer spending it generates. In its own study a few years ago, the industry estimated its own value at $646 billion, including 6.1 million jobs and $80 billion in taxes.
But with official government numbers, the outdoor recreation industry will be able to "even the playing field," in the words of one outdoor advocate, with other industries competing for the use of public lands, including mining and timber. While those industries have "concrete federal statistics" to back up their arguments, outdoor recreation advocates had been stuck with anecdotes. Outdoor recreation can be immensely important to local economies, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. One expert found rock climbing alone brought $7 million into a single Tennessee county last year. Protecting natural resources is vital to that. One sponsor of the Rec Act says he'll be able to tell other legislators: "Look at the incredible contribution to your Wyoming/Montana economy from outdoor recreation. Let’s not jeopardize that by ramping up how much fossil fuel extraction is going on here." (Read more outdoors stories.)