Four Outdoorists, Five Questions About Public Lands and the Recreation Economy

At tomorrow’s Industry Breakfast, Sally Jewell, Montana Governor Bullock, Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright will share their stories about public lands. You already know they all love being outside in our nation’s iconic open spaces. But they each bring a unique perspective based on their different experiences as business owners, policymakers, athletes and ambassadors. So we put the same five questions to all four of them to see how they’d answer. 

July 25, 2017

To the outdoor industry, protecting our nation’s public lands is our business! These vital lands are the very foundation of our massive outdoor recreation economy, which employs over 7.6 million Americans and generates over $887 billion dollars in consumer spending. Join us to hear Secretary Sally Jewell set the record straight on Bears Ears and rally the industry to continue to use our political power to fight for public lands. Governor Steve Bullock will show how outdoor recreation helps drive Montana’s economy. Also in the house are The North Face climbing athletes Cedar Wright and Alex Honnold. With humor and humility, they will share their experiences and adventures on some of America’s most beautiful landscapes and bring to life why they advocate strongly for public lands.



Governor Bullock: Our public lands are our heritage, our birthright, and our great equalizer. Public lands and access to them are for everyone to enjoy. It doesn’t matter the size of your checkbook. Every American has an equal ownership stake in the public lands across our country. Our outdoor recreation economy relies on our public lands staying public. In Montana, fishing and hunting generates nearly $1.3 billion from visitors and Montanans combined. Last year, we had over 11 million people visit our state to explore our wild places. These visits stir economic growth and create local, good-paying jobs.

Alex Honnold: Public lands provide a venue for individuals to do whatever matters most to them. Climbing, hiking, skiing, fishing, hunting, appreciating—whatever it is that fills someone with passion can be found in public lands.  

 Sally Jewell: Public lands in the United States are revered around the world.  In the most democratic way, the best places in this nation are preserved for the benefit of everyone, not just for the wealthy or well-connected. As immigrants to the U.S. in the 1950s, my family was introduced to camping, hiking, fishing and the great outdoors because ‘that’s what we do here,’ according to my father’s American work colleagues. That engagement to nature and public lands nurtured my soul and fed my curiosity, as it continues to do for people who take advantage of these resources today, especially children.   

Cedar Wright: Because most of our outdoor recreation, exploration, and good old fashioned outdoor fun happens on public lands. Most of my best memories as a kid and adult took place on public lands, from Joshua Tree, to Yosemite, to Rocky Mountain National Park and beyond! 



Alex Honnold: A community is made up of individuals, each of whom probably depends somewhat on the outdoors for their wellbeing. Communities are stronger when the people within them are happy and fulfilled, something made much easier with access to public lands and open spaces. And, of course, outdoor recreation can be a big financial boon for rural communities.  

Sally Jewell: Well cared-for public lands shape the character of communities and provide breathing space, natural beauty, recreational opportunities, economic benefits and ecological services – like clean air and water – that make communities more livable.   

Cedar Wright: As a resident of Boulder, Colorado, which is famous for its designated open spaces, I can personally say that this public land is one of the reasons I live there, and I think that the beauty and recreation opportunities that this public land affords are a draw for residents and visitors alike. 


Alex Honnold: Without public lands, it becomes infinitely harder to engage in the kinds of activities that outdoor businesses cater to. Public lands provide the stadium, so to speak (though maybe cathedral is better), in which outdoor sports take place.   

Sally Jewell: Our thriving, innovative outdoor recreation economy and the businesses that have been created, demonstrate that we don’t need to exploit our resources to derive long-term benefit—in fact, preservation of public lands supports jobs, while delivering a future we are proud to leave to new generations. 

Cedar Wright: This is simple! Most outdoor recreation equipment is purchased to spend time exploring our public lands, and if there are less places to play, there will be less people who pay. 



Governor Bullock: Setting lands aside for the public’s benefit is one of America’s greatest ideas. And now, it’s up to us to pay it forward and make sure that future generations can have the opportunity to wander, to contemplate, and to create lifelong memories on our prized public lands. Preserving our public lands is not only a historic fight, it’s an economic fight. It’s an investment that will pay off for decades to come.

Alex Honnold: To me that means protecting public lands and keeping them well funded. Preserving the lands, themselves, and preventing exploitation. And maybe, most important, maintaining a public voice in their management and not bowing to corporate interests.   

Sally Jewell: Keeping public lands public means recognizing that these lands, thoughtfully set aside by leaders of both political parties over our history, belong to all Americans. They hold many resources from invaluable and irreplaceable natural, historic and cultural treasures and places sacred to indigenous peoples, to renewable resources such as timber, grazing lands and clean energy sources, to non-renewable resources such as oil, gas, coal and many minerals.   

Policymakers, as I experienced as a public servant, hear many voices representing a wide array of perspectives on public lands, and it is important that they listen to all points-of-view in serving the public, including tribes whose ancestors lived in harmony with our vast landscapes since time immemorial.   

At the end of the day, the job of public servants and elected officials is to thoughtfully steward these landscapes and resources for all Americans, not just local communities or special interests, with a long-term, balanced approach.  Well-funded special interests may seek to privatize and/or develop these public resources. Engagement of the public—local, state and national—will help ensure that policymakers understand the assets under their stewardship and the balance needed to ensure the countless benefits of public lands continue for generations to come.  

Cedar Wright: To me, #keeppubliclandspublic is about enforcing a very basic right that we hold as citizens of this country that should not be eroded or compromised. 



Governor Bullock: We often hear that all politics are local. But politics are also deeply personal. I’ll bet that every policymaker has incredible memories or unforgettable stories from adventures on public land. These are memories that shape and define who we are as Americans. And these are the memories that make protecting and preserving our public lands personal, not political.

Alex Honnold: Well the obvious thing is to vote for people who support public lands and favor environmental protections. Beyond that, I suppose it’s just a matter of making sure that policymakers understand just how much citizens care about their public lands. That could be writing letters or making calls or joining rallies.  

And I suppose another obvious action would be to simply use and support public lands—go to our parks and camp, etc.  

Sally Jewell: First, voters should research the positions of the candidates and vote – always and especially in the primaries!  Second, elected officials ignore local companies and community members at their peril.  Give elected officials and other policymakers examples of where public lands benefit your business and your community.  Attend town halls, speak up, write op-eds in your local papers, visit with the media, and advocate for the things that are important to you.  Third, get active in the political process and engage in recruiting and supporting candidates who understand the benefit of public lands.  There is a saying: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”  Showing up, engaging, and working with groups that share your perspective to leverage your position are all ways to have an impact with policymakers. 

Cedar Wright: To make change in the political world we have to learn to speak the language, but I also think that the more we can share the experience and the passion that are intrinsic with time spent on our public lands to people outside the industry, the more that we can have a long term impact on protecting our public spaces. 



Governor Bullock: The investment we make to protect and preserve our public lands is one that pays off economically. But in spite of these economic realities, there are troubling signs coming out of Washington, D.C. Transferring federal land to the state is the first step in a process to sell them off to the highest bidder. States can’t afford the costs that come along with ownership, instead these lands would find their way to the auction block. Anti-public land policies are gravely out of touch with the values and voices of Westerners who know that taking public lands off the balance sheet will take the life out of our economy.

Alex Honnold: Within the climbing world, specifically, the majority of money spent in the outdoors flows directly to small communities in rural America, exactly the kinds of places that need it most. I’m spending my summer around Ten Sleep and Lander, Wyoming, both very small towns without a ton of economic opportunity. These are exactly the kinds of places that benefit the most from consumer spending.  

Sally Jewell: The Outdoor Rec Economy report has become an essential tool in quantifying why public lands are important in terms understood by the business community, with tangible results far outstripping many other large industries in job creation, tax revenue and economic benefit. Tax revenues to the federal government, alone, exceed revenues to the treasury from oil, gas and coal activities on public lands and waters. While we hear elected and appointed officials speak about manufacturing and extractive industry jobs being important, we need to ensure that public lands and outdoor recreation jobs also count, including the work of many dedicated public servants—rangers, planners, wildlife biologists, maintenance crews, visitor center staff, firefighters, anthropologists, historic preservationists and so much more.  There are many public land benefits that aren’t quantified in the report, such as making regions “livable,” attracting new businesses and increasing property values, the ecological benefits they bring such as clean air and water, and the inspiration they bring to volunteers from youth corps members to retirees giving back—who find meaning in their lives and multiply the work of others.  There is no better way to make the intangible benefits of public lands tangible, than by inviting an elected official or policymaker out with you on an outing to get a taste of the great outdoors, or better yet, to volunteer with a youth corps crew on a service project. 

Cedar Wright: The most interesting thing to me about the report is that it highlights the fact that the outdoor recreation economy is not a red or blue economy.  While hunters and rock climbers might not vote for the same representatives, they share the same passion and love for public lands, and need them to be protected in order to have a venue in which to pursue their passion. This reinforces my opinion that protecting public lands shouldn’t be a political issue. Having public land to recreate on is as basic a right as having public roads or a public library. 


Governor Bullock: Unforgettable memories with my family have been shaped throughout my life on Montana’s public lands. The first date I went on with my wife was a picnic in the south hills of Helena. I took my son on his first hunt on Montana’s public lands. And just a few weeks ago, I created new lifelong memories with my wife and three kids during a backpacking trip in the Jewel Basin Complex of the Flathead National Forest.

Alex Honnold: Free soloing El Cap in Yosemite in June 🙂 Possibly the best climbing experience of my life. Virtually my entire year has been spent on public lands, so I have a lot of good days to choose from, but El Cap is certainly the best. 

Sally Jewell: After completing my service as Secretary of the Interior, my husband Warren and I piled our camping gear into the car and took nearly three months on a 10,000-mile road trip from Washington, D.C. to Washington State, immersing ourselves in the history, culture and grandeur of this great nation.  

We pulled off at brown signs, enjoying many wildlife refuges, national parks, historic and cultural sites and other public lands.  We visited new national monuments in the south, dedicated to sharing the painful journey of African Americans from slavery to emancipation, reconstruction and the Civil Rights era.  We met with tribal members and public servants, touring new monuments and public lands in the desert southwest, including learning about the extraordinary geology of Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument, camping under the stars at Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, and going carefully through just a tiny sample of the extraordinary natural and cultural treasures of Bears Ears National Monument, seeing artifacts in their original resting places from 8001200 years ago.   

We met the paleontologist at Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, who has discovered two dinosaurs new to science, and hiked into incredible rock formations in Gold Butte National Monument, seeing ancient petroglyphs and pictographs, mapping routes from long ago.  We shared mini-climbing adventures in the red rock canyons and geological explorations in an abandoned gypsum mine on BLM lands in Utah and Arizona with our grandchildren—witnessing their curiosity and spirit of adventure come alive.   

These memories will last a lifetime and give me energy to continue to advocate for the places so important to leave to future generations and the people who care for them. 

Cedar Wright: My favorite memory is probably launching my paraglider from the Wonderland, a little hill on open space behind my house in Boulder, and then flying over a hundred kilometers to near Colorado Springs through the fluffiest most peaceful clouds.  I soared over Boulder’s iconic Flatirons, and caught a thermal with an eagle.  If, paragliding were ever banned in Boulder, I would probably leave.