Outdoor Recreation a Key Factor in US GDP


On February 14, 2018 the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis released a report outlining the financial contribution outdoor recreation makes to our nation’s Gross Domestic Product. The federal government’s analysis found that outdoor recreation
contributed $373.3 billion, or 2%, to overall GDP in 2016, beating out the contributions of all
mining, including the extraction of gas and oil. For many conservation groups, and Montanans
alike, these findings confirm an existing view held by many that outdoor recreation is a big
business, and it’s here to stay.

The real significance of the report, aside from the financial contribution the industry makes to
the economy, is the seriousness in which the federal government is taking in their analysis of
the industry. According to the Missoulian, this report was the first one not conducted by a
private industry group, such as the Outdoor Industry Association, signaling that Washington
D.C. is beginning to take notice of the growth and potential of the industry. In 2016, the
outdoor recreation industry grew 3.8% in comparison to the overall growth in the economy of
2.8%. In Montana alone, the Outdoor Industry Association estimated that in 2017 the outdoor
recreation industry contributed $7.1 billion in consumer spending, created 71,000 jobs, and
contributes $286 million in state and local tax revenue.

Although these numbers are significant, the idea of placing a dollar amount on a recreational
experience is something Montanans have been hesitant to adopt. Who can blame them?
Generally, studies concerning an area’s financial potential are centered around ideas of energy
or commercial real estate development, not conservation. Imagine arriving at the end of your
float on the Blackfoot River and someone asked you, “How much do you think that experience
was worth?” “Do you think that was a $93.26 Rainbow Trout you caught on Belmont Creek?”
“Would you be interested in subscribing to the Bitterroot River for $49.99 a month?” Sounds
ridiculous, right? These experiences, and their essence, cannot be reduced down to a financial
transaction, and that’s why we protect and defend them even when they aren’t the most
financially viable or profitable of situations.

As a lifelong Montana resident, I’ve had the privilege of enjoying and benefitting from the
exceptional recreational opportunities that are available to my community. Like most
Montanans, my opportunities to recreate are directly tied to the protection, management, and
maintenance of these precious public lands and waterways. If this type of fiscal validation is
what’s needed to get people to understand that our most important export as a state is our
natural world and not our natural resources, fine by me.

By Carter Berminghan, Events, Promotions, and Communications Intern                            Montana State Parks Foundation

Wild Horse Island, Home to World Record Bighorn Ram


February 28, 2018 was a great day for Montana State Parks. The three largest bighorn ram skulls from Montana, including the new world record bighorn, were officially scored in Bozeman.

The record ram lived for 9 years on Wild Horse Island and died of natural causes. The skull and horns were collected by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks staff and taken to the region one headquarters in Kalispell. This is a common practice at Wild Horse Island State Park. The skulls of bighorn rams are often removed by park staff to discourage illegal horn harvesting.

Bighorn sheep have over 2100 wild acres of state park to roam at Wild Horse Island but park managers have less than $15,000 a year to protect and maintain the park.  You might be thinking "wait, what is there to maintain at Wild Horse Island?".  While the island is largely undeveloped, State Park Managers are tasked with a lot of tasks that are critical to maintaining the island in its current state.  

Wild Horse Island is largely covered in shortgrass prairie and mixed conifer forests.  This ecosystem is adapted to fire and relies on natural fire to maintain the botanical balance of forests and prairies on the island.  Wildfire has been suppressed for decades in the western U.S. including on Wild Horse Island.  This creates an imbalance in which Ponderosa Pine trees are continually encroaching on meadows of shortgrass prairie that species like bighorn sheep depend on.  

State Park staff and volunteers remove encroaching Ponderosa Pine trees by hand, a measure needed to maintain the balance on the island of prairie grasses and conifer forests.  This is a time-intensive process for an agency that is consistently understaffed to begin with.  

Park managers must also deal with botanical intruders on the island.  Noxious weeds such as cheatgrass and knapweed wreak havoc on landscapes across western Montana and beyond.  Every year Montana state park staff and volunteers spend weeks manually removing and spraying non-native invasive weeds on Wild Horse Island.  

Additionally, parks staff and volunteers deserve a measure of gratitude from everyone who has had the good fortune of visiting Wild Horse Island.  The staff and volunteers who care for the island are the hard-working folks who clear and maintain the trails, spray invasive weeds, remove encroaching trees, and, of course, maintain the composting toilet on the island.  

Wild Horse Island truly is one of the best parts of the Montana State Parks system.  It's wild, undeveloped characteristics make it a perfect home for wildlife and a great place for us all to enjoy a primitive park experience.  Let's work together to help the great staff and volunteers with Montana State Parks so they can continue to take care of special places like Wild Horse Island.  

World-Class Bighorn Rams Skulls Found on Wildhorse Island

Great article about Wildhorse Island in the Daily Inter Lake newspaper.

Landstrom with Sheep Skull.jpg

It's pretty incredible that so many world-class Bighorn Sheep are living and growing to record sizes on Wildhorse Island State Park. Wildhorse is such a special place and an amazing natural resource. It's truly a jewel of the Montana State Parks system.

We hope this news gets you excited about State Parks and thinking about how you can help ensure parks like Wildhorse Island remain spectacular forever. Your donations are used to protect and preserve state parks for the people who visit and creatures who live in them. 

We are planning to work with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to find homes for these amazing Bighorn Sheep specimens.  We hope that the excitement and interest a new world record Bighorn skull creates will help us raise awareness of the challenges facing Wildhorse Island, the five other Flathead Lake State Parks, and the Montana State Parks system across the state.  

Stay tuned for news about the potential world record Bighorn skull as the official Boone and Crockett Club score is confirmed.