Recreation took center stage at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on January 8 as Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) leaders and recreation company CEOs met with Secretary Sonny Perdue, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Jim Hubbard and other key officials.  The group noted the importance of national forests to many recreational activities, and highlighted the world-class experiences provided to anglers and skiers, hikers, climbers, campers, paddlers, boaters and motorized trail enthusiasts.  The recreation leaders underscored the key role national forests play in rural economies across the country and the importance of key provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill that will allow rural economic development grants for recreation infrastructure in rural America.

The Secretary said wildfire costs had impacted the department’s recent recreation efforts, and thanked the recreation industry for its role in recent legislation that should control future fire costs at USDA and allow the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the recreation industry to achieve new recreation successes built around partnerships.  He told the group about his initiatives for recreation during his tenure as governor of Georgia, boosting boat ramps, fishing programs, state parks and more.

 ORR participants referred to positive actions already underway at USDA which are helpful to growing an industry that already accounts for 2.2% of the nation’s economy and supports 4.6 million jobs.  They emphasized the need for an improved recreation permitting process and urged expanded partnerships to improve access to, and enjoyment of, outdoor recreation on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service.  They described opportunities for immediate progress, including:

  • Secretarial visits to sites demonstrating USDA partnerships supporting rural communities and the importance of broadband access in these gateway areas;
  • Secretarial support for innovative USFS recreation efforts which capitalize on private investments to expand and enhance recreation infrastructure, including campgrounds;
  • Making the revamped website – and its potential for providing information on recreation opportunities – more visible;
  • Overcoming the recreation permitting problems with electronic and simplified applications and timely processing;
  • Eliminating the maintenance backlog on USFS lands, especially where it threatens recreational activity;
  • Outreach to young Americans and expanded use of conservation corps;
  • Learning from the shutdown; and more.

Secretary Perdue said the meeting “has been very helpful,” and “We are committed to helping Americans enjoy recreational opportunities in our national forests.  I invite you to help by recommending specific priority steps. Let’s capitalize on the fact that recreation is agnostic relative to politics, and let’s help more Americans enjoy the great outdoors.

“We had an excellent conversation with Secretary Perdue,” said Thom Dammrich, ORR Chair and President of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “He made clear that he supports the recreation industry and invites us to grow partnerships on the public lands and waters in the national forest system – 193 million acres, more than 400,000 acres of lakes, 4300 campgrounds and 160,000 miles of trails.  He invited our help in identifying specific steps forward and ORR will provide those.”

Participants in Tuesday’s meeting included ORR’s Chair and Vice Chair, top corporate officials from Winnebago, Polaris, Forest Service permittees and national conservation organizations.  Additional information on topics discussed and participants can be found here.