Oregon Pursues Office of Outdoor Recreation

Photo: Andrew Holman
by Michael Vincerra

The outdoor economy in the United States is prospering, “ ... each year generating $887 billion in consumer spending,” per the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). While it’s hard to imagine that dollar figure, consider it in terms of jobs. The OIA’s 1,200-plus member companies, “ ... support more than 7.6 million American jobs and provide $124 million every year in federal and state tax revenue.” Why is that important? More outdoor recreation means more economic growth. And more funding for conservation and outdoor recreation in Oregon.

Perhaps more importantly, when state government supports industry by creating an office to facilitate that growth, the outdoor industry returns the favor with economic stimulus. A public/private partnership is born. The outdoor industry has a champion. Synergy starts.

“In Oregon, it's about a $12.8 billion annual industry, and it creates about 141,000 jobs,” says Adam Baylor, Mazama Stewardship & Advocacy Manager. "That contributes to state and local taxes."
Along with Mazama Executive Director, Lee Davis, Baylor worked tirelessly since early 2016, advocating for the creation of an Outdoor Recreation Office in the state of Oregon. If established, an Office of Outdoor Recreation will guarantee that outdoor recreation has a representative in Oregon’s state government.

With Oregon’s 2017 budget deficit over $1.5B, and the President's proposed federal budget cuts as of March 2017, Oregon’s outdoor recreation industry remains fragile. For example, take the proposed cuts to the Department of the Interior: $1.5 billion, including $120 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

According to Baylor, "There's been a trend in the last 50 years to de-fund recreation." And Baylor takes issue with that: “That's a bad idea. If the states and federal government put a little more money into funding [outdoor recreation], that would be a multiplier. If you can promote it and people want to use your outdoor recreation assets, then you'll make money. It will attract those businesses or companies that want to set up shop in Bend or Portland because of the proximity. To grow that outdoor industry cluster, one strategy is to take what Utah, Colorado and Washington did, and implement that in Oregon."

Utah, Washington, and Colorado have taken different approaches to create of an office of outdoor recreation—by task force recommendation, legislation, or appointment. Utah’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, the first of its kind, was created by Governor Gary Herbert in 2013. Washington’s Senior Policy Advisor, Outdoor Recreation & Economic Development, was introduced via SB 5843, and signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee in 2015. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper appointed Luis Benitez for the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office in 2015. In Colorado, “The industry stirs $13.2 billion in annual consumer spending, generating $994 million in local and state taxes” (Blevins, Denver Post).

According to the OIA, all states, “ ... share a focus on traditional economic development—incentives, workforce development and related work—as well as outdoor recreation through legislation, education, and public lands management.” While all states’ offices have a dual focus on economic development and outdoor recreation, each state customized the role depending on their economic priorities.

Oregon has learned from Washington, which developed a good process for establishing an office of outdoor recreation. At first in Washington, Baylor states, “They went back and forth on whether to create a cabinet-level policy advisor and use the Governor's budget." Finally, Governor Jay Inslee created a blue-ribbon task force to look at the issue around Outdoor Recreation. Per Baylor, Washington assessed, " ...the need for state-level leadership, concluding that they needed a key person to talk to when [they] had problems." Finally, Baylor says, “Washington's Blue Ribbon Task force made recommendations that shaped the work plan for the Office to move forward." As Mazamas Executive Director Lee Davis said during his recent interview with Dave Miller on the OPB radio program Think Out Loud, Washington’s Senior Policy Advisor is, “ ... working directly with the Governor to try to make sure that as laws are enacted in Washington, they’re paying attention to recreation along with the other critically important sectors like healthcare and energy.”
In Oregon, the impetus for an Outdoor Recreation Office grew out of the 'Oregon's 7 Wonders’ campaign, organized by Travel Oregon. Formally known as Oregon Tourism Commission, Travel Oregon, is "... a semi-independent agency created by the Oregon Legislature in 2003 to enhance Oregonians’ quality of life by strengthening economic impacts of the state’s $10.8 billion tourism industry."

In 2016, Travel Oregon took Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Earl Blumenauer on the Seven Wonders' Tour to allow them to listen to the citizens of Oregon and the needs of outdoor recreation. Leading out of that experience Senator Wyden introduced a bill, Recreation Not Red Tape, which seeks to remove bureaucratic barriers to expanding recreation opportunities and specifically supports the creation of outdoor recreation leadership positions at the state level.

Then in the summer of 2016, Travel Oregon convened a group of leaders in outdoor recreation, including the Mazamas, “ ... to make sure that as we look at expanding access to outdoor recreation, we’re considering everybody who has a stake in that conversation,” says Lee Davis. “It’s a necessary step to be qualified for access to federal funds in land and water conservation.”

On behalf of the Mazamas and our partners, Baylor lobbied for the Outdoor Recreation Office in Salem—and in support of a bill developed by Representative Mark Johnson (R-Hood River) and co-sponsored by Representative Ken Helm (D–Beaverton). Rep. Johnson was also a part of the leadership team for Travel Oregon's Outdoor Recreation Initiative. The Mazamas reached out to the OIA, Rep. Johnson and Rep. Ken Helm, and coordinated with local industry leaders to hash out a plan for Oregon’s Office of Outdoor Recreation.

Oregon HB 3350 states that it, “Creates Office of Outdoor Recreation within State Parks and Recreation Department. Creates Associate Director of Outdoor Recreation. Prescribes duties of office and of associate director. Creates Outdoor Recreation Fund. Continuously appropriates moneys in fund to State Parks and Recreation Department for purposes of Office of Outdoor Recreation.”
Baylor adds, “It would also allow local companies to advise or contribute to the work plan, and order a statewide inventory of recreation assets.”

A key provision of HB 3350, Section 4(b) is to, “Maximize public and private investment in the outdoor recreation industry and in outdoor recreation activities in this state.” On April 3, HB 3350 passed through the House Economic Development and Trade committee unanimously, and its fiscal impact will be examined in the Senate Joint Ways and Means Sub-Committee on Natural Resources.
Lee Davis concludes, “In the face of population growth and urbanization and congestion [HB 3350] is making sure that the reason we all love living here is still in place in future generations. When people spend time recreating outside, it helps them develop conservation values, which is really important to the Mazamas.” Establishing this office, Davis contends, is, “ ... making the argument that outdoor recreation is a must-have value and not a wish-list item.”

To learn more about Oregon HB 3350 (2017), visit: oregonoutdoorrecreation.com

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