Economic value of outdoor recreation surprises ORC 

Sea to Sky corridor may be next area of study

The Sea to Sky corridor might be the next focus of an on-going study of self-guided outdoor recreation being done by The Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C.

"We decided to do the study because we often find in land use planning processes and other cases that the value of outdoor recreation is simply not recognized," said Norma Wilson: executive director of the council.

"It is quite invisible."

The council has just completed a study of the central coast, the northern coast, and the Queen Charlotte Islands.

The results were a surprise said Wilson. The study found that self-guided outdoor recreation conservatively contributes $55 million annually to the provincial economy.

"The annual total was quite astonishing especially when you consider that these areas are somewhat remote, that the population is quite small, and it is fairly remote from the major population centres of the province in the Lower Mainland, or Prince George area or the Okanagan," she said.

"We were astonished really that the value would be as high as it was."

The results of the study, conducted by the Economic Planning Group, a private Victoria-based research firm, were given to those in charge of the land and resource management process in each region.

"Ideally we would like to see that recreational resources are respected in land use planning processes," said Wilson.

"We would like to think that this gives recreation a footing to be able to say, ‘we are an economic contributor to the province and we do deserve consideration.’

"It is not to exclude other resource development, but it might mean recognizing the integrity of a trail and maybe bending the boundary of a clear cut or ensuring the trail is cleared out after the clear cutting is finished."

Wilson said the results have also been forwarded to the provincial government.

"We want to make sure that government begins to understand that there is a value to outdoor recreation," she said.

Ideally the council would now like to study a busy area such as the Sea to Sky corridor to show how much money outdoor activists contribute in this type of region.

The financial estimate is based upon spending on such items as food, travel expenses, and equipment.

The $48,000 study took three months to compile and another month to write. Most of the funding came from Western Economic Diversification Canada, the federal department mandated to support economic diversification in communities across the western provinces.

It is unique because it looked at the financial contribution made by people who use the outdoors for a number of activities, from fishing and wildlife-viewing to ski touring, but do not use guides and tourist facilities.

Wilson said the majority of the data came from one-on-one interviews with people in the study areas, statistics for fishing and hunting licenses, and anecdotal information. The council also spoke to companies such as B.C. Ferries to find out, for example, how many kayakers they dropped off at Bella Bella.

"These are people who are not paying for the services of a guide and some of them may be from out of province or out of country," said Wilson.

"But the fact still remains that they came here because of our outdoor recreational resources, not because of the tourism services that are offered."

The study found that the total number of recreational activity users in the three regions was over 75,000. Saltwater fishing was the most significant at over 31,000, followed by nature study at nearly 26,000.

Other popular activities included boating (4,800), freshwater fishing (3,800), ATV use (3,250) and kayaking (3,000).

Saltwater fishing generates the most annual revenues at $21 million, followed by nature study/wildlife viewing at $5 million and boating at $3 million.

Freshwater fishing, kayaking and hunting each account for about $2 million.

The authors of the report also bemoaned the fact there is a general lack of information in this area as no single organization or government agency has responsibility for managing planning for outdoor recreation.

The report found that the trend is for a continuing increase in most recreational activities. A key reason for this is the baby boomers, many of whom are active in a range of outdoor activities.

"Their impact on the recreation sector will become even more dramatic over the next two decades," states the report.

"This outlook is expected because boomers – more than any other group in the recent past – have the financial means and the interest in outdoor recreation."

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