Recreational Spending in Sagebrush Generates Millions in Western States

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Recreational Spending in Sagebrush Generates Millions in Western States

WASHINGTON – A new report by ECONorthwest, an independent economics firm, shows that visitors who hike, camp, hunt, and relax on sagebrush lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management generate hundreds of millions of dollars for Western state economies. 

The "Recreation Spending & BLM Sagebrush Lands" report, commissioned by the Western Values Project and The Pew Charitable Trusts, is the first of its kind to look solely at the economic contributions of recreational spending across the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem on BLM lands in the western United States. According to the report, visits to these landscapes in 11 states—California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming—in 2013 generated approximately $623 million in spending in communities near the recreation sites, which circulated through the state and national economies creating an additional $283 million in employees’ salaries, wages, and benefits; a $562 million contribution to the national gross domestic product; and an additional $1.06 billion to the overall U.S. economy. 

The sagebrush-steppe ecosystem is home to hundreds of species, such as mule deer, pronghorn, golden eagles, elk, and the greater sage-grouse, an "indicator species" whose population numbers signal to biologists the health of the entire ecosystem. The greater sage-grouse's population has declined in the last century due to the loss of 50 percent of the bird’s habitat. With more than half of the bird’s remaining habitat on public, federally managed lands, the BLM is developing land use plans to manage the sagebrush ecosystem. 

"It’s clear that a healthy sagebrush ecosystem is an important economic driver for Western economies," said Ken Rait, director of Pew’s U.S. public lands project. "Protecting greater sage-grouse habitat is not just wise conservation policy, but also sound economic policy for the West." 

"The lands where greater sage-grouse and other wildlife and plants thrive provide an economic stimulus to local communities," said Kristin Lee of ECONorthwest. "The numbers show us that visitors engage in a wide range of recreational activities in sagebrush country, and they, in turn, make real contributions to the economies of all the states where greater sage-grouse live."

Researchers analyzed 61 million acres, or a quarter of all BLM-managed public lands. The findings are based on analysis of data identifying the amount of recreation occurring within sagebrush habitat, as well as quantifying the associated spending in nearby communities and the expected ripple effects of this spending throughout each state and the nation. Using BLM data, the study found that approximately 13.8 million recreational visits to BLM sagebrush occurred in 2013, which equals 22 percent of the 61.7 million recreational visits to all BLM lands that year. 

"We live, work and play in the outdoors," said Ron Hunter, Patagonia Inc.'s environmental programs manager in Reno, Nevada. "Conserving lands in sagebrush country is critical to wildlife such as the sage-grouse and Americans' ability to explore the West and enjoy our great outdoors."

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Learn more at

ECONorthwest is a Pacific Northwest economic firm with consultants providing expertise in economics, finance and planning. Learn more at

The Western Values Project focuses on Western values and energy development and public lands conservation issues. Learn more at

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