Rosen Chairs Subcommittee Hearing Focused on the State of the Outdoor Tourism and Recreation Industry

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Chair of the Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion, held a hearing examining the state of outdoor tourism and the recreation industry. Witnesses – including Colin Robertson, Administrator of Nevada Division of Outdoor Recreation, Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; Glenn Hughes, President of the American Sportfishing Association; Joe Henry, Executive Director of Lake of the Woods Tourism; and Zachary Hartman, Chief Policy Officer of Ducks Unlimited – gave insight into the impact of outdoor recreation on local economies and discussed solutions for promoting the outdoor industry, investing in local communities, protecting our lands and waters, and supporting U.S. jobs and businesses. A transcript of the Senator’s opening statement can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here. 

ROSEN: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to today’s hearing on The State of Outdoor Tourism, Recreation, & Ecotourism. Today, we’ll examine the state of the outdoor tourism and recreation industry, including the impacts of COVID-19 on businesses and communities. We will review the contributions of outdoor recreation to local economies and discuss solutions for promoting the outdoor industry, investing in communities depending on outdoor tourism, protecting our lands and waters, and supporting U.S. jobs and businesses.

The outdoor recreation industry contributes $778 billion in economic output nationally and supports nearly 5.2 million American jobs, from guides to outfitters to manufacturers, of course our small business owners, and so many more. Because outdoor recreation serves as an outlet for individuals to enjoy natural spaces – especially this past year during this pandemic – and it also creates job opportunities and stimulates the travel and tourism economy that every single state depends upon.

Outdoor recreation is a major contributor, of course, to the Nevada economy. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation in Nevada generates over $5.5 billion in economic output annually and is responsible for nearly 60,000 Nevada jobs. Nevada’s natural wonders bring people from across the country and around the world to see our mountains, our deserts, our lakes, and our wildlife. Over 80% of our state is managed by the federal government. And these public lands and waters and our 24 state parks offer diverse opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy the outdoors, including hiking, camping, boating, hunting, skiing, fabulous stargazing, or attending a wonderful outdoor cultural event.

In Southern Nevada, we have many beautiful places and recreation opportunities just minutes away from the Las Vegas Strip – from Red Rock National Conservation Area to the Valley of Fire and Lake Mead. And of course, in northern Nevada we have Lake Tahoe. It’s one of the world’s most beautiful and clearest bodies of water, and it attracts over 15 million visitors each year for various outdoor recreational opportunities, again, skiing, water sports, biking, camping, and hiking. Through this, Tahoe actually anchors a $5.1 billion economy and supports hundreds of local jobs.

In Nevada we have two national monuments, Gold Butte and Basin and Range, and they’re in remote and rugged areas of our state. They’re full of petroglyphs that people from all over come to see. And developing outdoor recreation opportunities in and near Nevada’s rural communities, they’re really an important way to increase tourism spending and support local businesses. Places like Jarbridge Wilderness Area or the Ruby Mountains in Elko County attract outdoor enthusiasts and backcountry hikers and hunters. In Lander County, the Battle Mountain Human Powered Vehicle Speed Challenge is a fixture of the tourism season in Battle Mountain. Black Rock Desert in western Nevada, I’m sure all of you have heard of that, is home to Burning Man, but it also offers opportunities year-round, including rock climbing and land speed racing.  

White Pine County in eastern Nevada is also a hub for outdoor recreation and tourism, as I said, with Great Basin National Park featuring ancient bristlecone pines, the Lehman Caves, and unparalleled views of the night sky. You want to stargaze, you come to Nevada, cause The Great Basin Star Train is going to transport visitors from Ely to the Park, which has brought in thousands of dollars to the local community. And [the] “Park to Park After Dark” initiative is building on this success and encouraging astro-tourism to see the stars along Highway 6 from Death Valley National Park to Great Basin National Park.  

So, I’m so pleased to have Colin Robertson here, our state’s inaugural Administrator of Nevada’s Division of Outdoor Recreation. He’s here today testifying as an expert witness to share his insights on how to support the outdoor recreation industry.

In addition, we are pleased to have with us today Joe Henry, Executive Director of Lake of the Woods Tourism in Minnesota; Glenn Hughes, President of the American Sportfishing Association; and Zachary Hartman, Chief Policy Officer of Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit organization focused on wetlands conservation.

As we’ll hear from these witnesses, over the past year we have seen an increase in participation and demand in outdoor recreation, which has created both opportunities and challenges for the industry. Nearly 53% of Americans participated in outdoor recreation in 2020, and 8.1 million more Americans hiked last year than in 2019. This isn’t surprising, given that outdoor recreation offered a way for people to enjoy nature and benefit their mental and physical health during this pandemic, all while complying with social distancing guidelines.

While we did see an increase in Americans exploring nature and getting outdoors, many had to cancel trips or were unable to spend money on recreation due to the pandemic. Get Outdoors Nevada and the Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition commissioned a study on the impact of COVID on outdoor recreation, which found that the state’s outdoor recreation economy lost about 6% of its jobs during the pandemic. With the loss of 13.7 million annual visitors to the state; tour companies, outfitters and guides, and other businesses—all of themthey just suffered because they rely on those travelers.

And I know that this follows a national trend; according to the US Census Bureau, which measured COVID-19 impacts on small businesses, 75% of small businesses in the category that includes outdoor recreation are struggling due to the crisis. The outdoor recreation industry went from one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy to experiencing record unemployment during the pandemic. And according to a survey of Outdoor Recreation Roundtable members, last year as many as 94% of outdoor businesses experienced drops in sales and 88% of outdoor businesses laid off or furloughed staff.

Our nation’s outdoor economy is still hurting and Congress, we have a role to play in helping rebuild it. First, we must provide better funding for land management agencies and local communities so that they can better protect and maintain public lands and serve visitors to them. Without adequate staffing and resources, we won’t be able to continue enjoying the outdoors or have a healthy outdoor tourism future.

We must also make significant investments in improving the infrastructure in our parks and other public lands, such as improving campgrounds and boat ramps, so that people will fully be able to enjoy the outdoors.

There is much more we can do to reinvigorate our outdoor tourism economy and get Americans back to work. It is my hope that today’s hearing will help us better understand the opportunities and challenges facing the outdoor recreation industry, and how to support small businesses, local communities, public lands, and waters through targeted investments. I look forward to hearing from each of the witnesses today as you share your experiences and expertise with us.

So, I’m going to turn it over to Ranking Member Scott for his opening statement and then we’ll introduce our witnesses – Senator Scott.