Adventures NW Magazine Summer 2015

Page 7

Earth Economics F

or those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest, outdoor recreation is very nearly a religion. We like to play - and our options are absurdly diverse. We hike, run, bike, paddle, sail, raft, row, climb, swim, camp, cruise, fish, hunt, ride, ski, board, snowshoe, kiteboard, and simply savor the inspiring landscapes that surround us in such profusion. Increasingly, these pursuits are being sought out by everincreasing numbers of people. Our growing reputation as a recreational Mecca draws a steady stream of visitors from hither and yon to sample an afternoon of paddling on the bay, a weekend of cycling on Galbraith or two weeks in the Picket Range. Additionally, we are seeing folks moving here from less bucolic regions to enjoy these world-class recreational opportunities as well as companies relocating with an eye toward offering their employees these top-drawer ‘quality of life’ benefits. A recently released study - the first of its kind - quantifies all this activity in easy-to-understand economic terms. The study, conducted by Earth Economics at the behest of Recreation NW and funded by Whatcom County, City of Bellingham, Port of Bellingham and Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism is an eye-opener. The study revealed that each year, residents and visitors spend $705 million on outdoor recreation in Whatcom County, ranking it eighth-highest in the state for such expenditures. This spending supports a total of 6,502 jobs. Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws sums up the significance of this data: “Whatcom County’s abundant natural beauty is a huge draw for outdoor recreation enthusiasts. This study draws the positive correlation between our scenic landscape and its impact on local businesses and our overall economy.” “Recreation is critical to Bellingham and Whatcom County,”

agrees Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville. “Recreational opportunities not only highlight our beautiful region, but they also help create jobs, attract talented professionals and build our regional reputation as a healthy place to live, work and play.” The study, which builds on a statewide Recreation Economic Impact study commissioned by the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office, reveals that Whatcom County is home to 279 recreation businesses, including retail outlets, boat building, gear manufacturers, etc. Together these businesses generate $508 million in revenue and provide 3,728 jobs. This kind of quantitative analysis of the benefits of our recreation economy has been a long time coming. So what do these numbers tell us? They offer an alternative to our traditional way of thinking about economic growth as a function of resource exploitation. Our history is one of extraction: timber, coal, fish, etc. These natural resources have been monetized by extracting them from the ecosystem. Unfortunately, they have all turned out to be painfully finite, resulting in repeating boom/bust cycles. Clearly not sustainable. This ground-breaking study makes the case for a new way of looking at natural resources. These recreational resources are experiential - activities that generate economic activity. Protecting the conditions that facilitate these activities enables them to be monetized. The opposite of extraction. It is the forests and pristine mountains, the orcas and the eagles, the free-flowing rivers and the breezes fresh off the Salish Sea that make this economic model viable. You can read the report at

The Adventure Continues ...

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