A Stateline analysis of census data found that outdoor recreation helped drive the slight growth in rural population from 2016 to 2017. While populations shrank in big mining and farming counties, those with large recreational industries grew, and grew the most. Independent research group Headwaters Economics found that population, employment and personal income grew an average of two times faster or more in Western rural counties with the most federal lands, Oates reports.
The Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis began compiling its report in 2016 after President Obama signed the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act, which directed the department to work with the Agriculture and Interior departments to assess and analyze the outdoor recreation economy. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hailed the report as a good source of data that businesses can use to help them plan for the future, as it measures the economic impact of recreational activities such as boating, fishing, RVing, hunting, camping and hiking.
According to the BEA report, the largest industry in outdoor recreation is motorized vehicles (mostly RVs), which accounted for $59.5 billion of economic activity in 2016. Boating and fishing contributed $38.2 billion that year, and hunting/fishing/trapping brought $15.4 billion.
An industry trade group called the Outdoor Industry Association did a similar study that found $887 billion of economic activity generated by outdoor recreation, more than twice what BEA found. The difference lies in the methodology: "The BEA report did not account for the revenue produced from apparel and equipment manufactured overseas, which makes up a large portion of outdoor gear," Oates reports. "In addition, the BEA did not measure recreation spending on trips that happen less than 50 miles from home."