Economics of Outdoor Recreation

Science Center Objects

Planning and managing recreation areas is a series of choices, and not a day goes by that that manager doesn’t face a question, which at its roots, is often economic.

Department of the Interior provides many outdoor recreation opportunities for the public, and from a planning perspective, managers may be interested in the effects to visitor use from changes to entrance fees, expanding a campground, adding a mountain biking trail, or the foregone opportunities to recreators from projects that may restrict or degrade a recreation experience. Survey data is often an important feature estimating both the economic benefits of outdoor recreation, typically measured as the value experienced by individual recreationists (economic value), and the jobs and business activity generated in communities surrounding Interior recreation lands (economic impacts).

SEA economists have a series of tools and applications that address the economic benefits of outdoor recreation to both individual recreators themselves and to nearby and national business activities, including:

  • Research on the economic value of outdoor recreation studies, include the benefits of brown bear viewing at Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska and the value of bird viewing at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.

  • The USGS Benefit Transfer Toolkit is a publicly available website that provides summary databases of results from previously published outdoor recreation economic valuation studies. The web-based Toolkit includes spreadsheet-based databases of non-market valuation studies, average value tables, and meta-regression analysis models that can be used to conduct various types of benefit transfer. The Toolkit’s outdoor recreation valuation databases include hunting, wildlife viewing, fishing, mountain biking, off-highway vehicle use, and many more.

  • Each year, SEA collaborates with the National Park Service (NPS) to estimate economic contributions of recreation at national parks units. The annual estimates published in the NPS Visitor Spending Effects report detail the amount of money visitors spend in communities near parks, as well as the jobs and business activities supported within national, state, and local economies.

  • SEA economists have assisted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with analyzing the economic outcomes of refuge management within their Comprehensive Conservation Plans for individual refuges. These analyses summarize the local economic settings, employment, and wildlife refuge use, as well as estimating the economic contributions of refuge activities across CCP alternatives.

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