Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Colorado, Montana Earn Top Grades While Utah Flunks in New CAP Study That Shows How States Can Boost Their Economies by Protecting Public Lands
Press Release

RELEASE: Colorado, Montana Earn Top Grades While Utah Flunks in New CAP Study That Shows How States Can Boost Their Economies by Protecting Public Lands

Washington, D.C. — A new report from the Center for American Progress shows how states can boost their economies with pro-outdoor policies that protect public lands and promote greater access.

Colorado and Montana earned the highest grades in the report, while Utah ranked last—with Arizona and Wyoming also coming in near the bottom. These rankings were based in part on state lawmakers’ efforts to sell off public lands, an effort that creates a negative political and rhetorical environment for expanding outdoor recreation. Overall, 11 western states received grades.

The report comes on the heels of Outdoor Industry Association’s recent decision to pull its biannual Outdoor Retailer trade show out of Utah, taking $45 million of annual economic impact over to Colorado. The move was made in protest over Utah’s public lands policies, including its opposition to the designation of Bears Ears National Monument.

“States ignore the outdoor industry at their peril,” said Nicole Gentile, CAP deputy director for public lands and co-author of the study. “Healthy public lands and healthy economies are inextricably linked. States that foster outdoor recreation through smart policies can help diversify their economies and strengthen rural communities.”

Below is the report card for the states:

Montana: A

Colorado: A

California: B

Oregon: B

Washington: B

Nevada: B

Idaho: C

New Mexico: C

Wyoming: D

Arizona: D

Utah: F

As western states strive to develop sustainable, diverse economies that are less tied to the boom and bust cycle of the energy industry, outdoor recreation and tourism offer promising paths to prosperity. States with policies that promote growth of the outdoor economy will attract visitors, residents and businesses, the report finds.

The report highlights smart state policies that can foster outdoor recreation and strengthen the outdoor economy. Examples include Colorado’s dedicated funding program to protect public lands, Montana’s public access specialist, and Nevada’s permanent expansion of the federal Every Kid in a Park program to the state level.

“There are a number of innovative, thoughtful policies that states are adopting to strengthen their economies and improve residents’ ability to access public lands,” said Jenny Rowland, CAP research and advocacy manager for public lands and co-author of the study. “For states that ranked lower on the scorecard, this report offers concrete steps that governors and legislatures can take to take to ensure they don’t stifle the booming outdoor recreation economy.”

The report also introduced new data on the average time it takes residents in each of the states to get to the nearest outdoor recreation area. California led the way, with the average resident situated just 1.5 minutes away from a recreation access point, while Arizona had the longest time at 9.4 minutes.

Overall, the report graded the states on four categories: (1) public lands recognition, (2) funding sources for public lands and outdoor recreation, (3) how states prioritize their residents’ ability to access public lands, and (4) policies that encourage young people and underserved communities to get outside.

Read the report: “Outdoor Recreation Is Big Business: A State Scorecard and Policy Menu for Growing the Outdoor Recreation Economy in 11 Western States” by Nicole Gentile and Jenny Rowland.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Sam Hananel at [email protected] or 202-478-6327.