This editorial was published by the Columbian of Vancouver, Wash.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, outdoor recreation has helped keep us from going stir crazy. While trying to avoid gathering indoors or spending time with friends and family, a walk in the woods provided a respite.
The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that a record 52 percent of Americans participated in outdoor recreation during 2020. And Outdoorsy, an RV rental company, used data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to determine that outdoor recreation accounted for 2 percent of Washington’s economy and 2.8 percent of employment in the state last year.
Of course, those organizations have reason to promote the benefits of the great outdoors. But people in Washington long have recognized those benefits, making the estimate that 52 percent of us partake in the outdoors seem low.
The point, however, is not to quibble with the numbers, but to extoll the wonders of the outdoors. It also is to point out the need for robust, sustained efforts to preserve those wonders.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reconnected many of us with the scenery of the region. There is good reason for that.
“There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human well-being,” Lisa Nisbet, a psychologist at Trent University in Canada, told the American Psychological Association last year for an article about the outdoors and mental health. “You can boost your mood just by walking in nature, even in urban nature. And the sense of connection you have with the natural world seems to contribute to happiness even when you’re not physically immersed in nature.”
As the article states: “The biophilia hypothesis argues that since our ancestors evolved in wild settings and relied on the environment for survival, we have an innate drive to connect with nature.”
That drive has been evident over the past 18 months. According to the Spokesman-Review, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife sold 45,000 more fishing licenses and 12,000 more hunting licenses last year than in 2019. The number of new license holders — people who had not purchased one in the previous five years — increased 16 percent for fishing licenses and almost 40 percent for hunting licenses.
That is a quantifiable way to gauge increased outdoors activity. And it represents Washington residents’ thirst for such recreation. Licensing, along with the Discover Pass that provides access to state-owned lands, accounts for a large chunk of the WDFW budget, allowing the department to protect and preserve Washington’s wildlife and ecosystems.
“We have this North American model, but it’s old and not keeping up with the relevancy piece of how people are using these lands,” Morgan Stinson, the department’s chief financial officer, told the Spokesman-Review.
Congress for decades had eschewed effective funding for conservation, but last year passed the Great American Outdoors Act. The law, signed by President Donald Trump, includes permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a move long supported by lawmakers from Western states.
“We have to be very deliberate and serious with how we plan and manage outdoor recreation,” said Jon Snyder, a policy adviser to Gov. Jay Inslee. “It’s a must-have if your mental health and physical health depends on it.”
That is a lesson that has been reinforced throughout the pandemic. We hope it is not soon forgotten.