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When BLM manages for recreation, we all win

How I love the Siskiyou Mountains! I travel often, but I am always so grateful to return to the spaciousness of our region here in southwest Oregon.

Wherever I go, I seek out wild places and often end up on the eco-tourism circuit. In many of the remaining natural places found around the world, eco-tourism is fueling local economies and shifting mindsets from extractive industries (like logging and mining) to the benefits of sharing the intrinsic value of natural beauty.

As the Bureau of Land Management works out the details of its new 10-year Western Oregon Resource Management Plan, it should take note of the growing outdoor recreation market. Since before the logging boom of the '70s and '80s, our region has struggled to develop a diversified, sustainable economy to fund our schools, libraries and infrastructure without begging for federal bailouts in the form of federal timber or federal payments.

With the surging popularity of outdoor recreation, we in Southern Oregon should be developing more appreciation for our spectacular and world-class wilderness, trail systems and wild rivers that attract people from all over the world. Many of these recreational opportunities exist on our National Forest and BLM land, including the largest concentration of Wild and Scenic rivers in the United States right here in our region.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, Americans spend $646 billion on outdoor recreation annually — on gear, trips, travel-related expenses and more. While other industries were contracting in the last recession, the outdoor recreation economy grew 5 percent per year between 2005 and 2011. In total, 6.1 million American livelihoods depend on outdoor recreation, making it an enormous economic sector in the United States.

Here in Oregon, at least 68 percent of residents participate in outdoor recreation annually. In our state the outdoor recreation economy contributes $12.8 billion in consumer spending, $141,000 in directly related jobs and $955 million in state and local tax revenue. According to the BLM’s draft plans, recreation in Oregon BLM forests creates $223 million a year in economic activity. What’s not to like?

In contrast, the BLM’s revenues from logging yield only about one-tenth of the amount gained from recreation receipts. Think about it: should we: 1) clearcut log our public lands, generate less money, send the profits into a few deep timber industry pockets and degrade our forests for future generations or 2) emphasize recreational opportunities on public lands, spread the profits to small businesses who benefit all over the region (restaurants, stores, hotels, tour guides, etc.), and share the God-given gorgeousness of the Rogue Valley environs with the world?

Southern Oregon BLM lands offer spectacular outdoor recreation opportunities — such as the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail, the Wild Rogue River, and many yet-to-be-developed trails and eco-tourism possibilities. Preserving outdoor recreation opportunities protects the economy, local businesses and communities, and the people who depend on the ability to play outside.

Evelyn Roether lives in the Applegate Valley and is the author of the "Williams Area Trail Guide."