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outdoor recreation

Outdoor Recreation Bolstered Wyoming’s Economy In 2020, Despite Pandemic

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Even though total income dropped, outdoor recreation still contributed 3.4% to Wyoming’s gross domestic product as park visitation numbers increased and more people took part in some outdoor activities, according to the latest numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

According to the bureau, the total value added by outdoor recreation to the state’s gross domestic product dropped from $1.69 billion in 2019 to $1.25 billion in 2020, with the total contribution dropping from 4.2% to 3.4% of the total. 

Employment in the sector saw a decrease from 21,344 to 14,187 but the percentage of total wages declined only 0.1%.

“Many outdoor activities saw significant growth, including snowmobiling and (off-road vehicle) riding, which saw an increase in permit sales of over 18% and 16% respectively from 2019 to 2020.”  said Chris Floyd, Manager of the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation.  “Although the overall outdoor recreation economic impact numbers declined, most of the losses in the sector were due to limits on a few activities, such as snow skiing and outdoor events, which experienced heavy impacts due to closures and other restrictions during the pandemic.”

There were also increases in the economic impact of boating and fishing by 79%, bicycling by 13%, climbing/hiking/tent camping by 6%, motorcycling and ATV riding by 5% and RV camping by 2.5%.

Wyoming state park visitation in 2020 increased by 41% over 2019 and other managers of other public lands reported similar increases in use. The growth helped increase economic activity statewide as other economic sectors saw declines during the pandemic, according to the Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources.

Wyoming was ranked fourth nationally in value added in both percentage of GDP and percentage of total wages in 2020, trailing only Hawaii, Vermont and Montana.

Many Wyoming businesses reported strong sales of outdoor recreation equipment and vehicles, which would have been even higher had supply chains been able to keep up with the demand, officials said.

The economic impact from snow activities, particularly at ski resorts, saw a decline of 37% or $40 million, which wiped out many gains in other recreational activities.  Equestrian activities and hunting and shooting sports also declined by 28% and 21% respectively.

“Our gross sales were up over 40% in 2020 compared to 2019 and it is continuing through (2021) where we have surpassed 2020 gross sales year to date,” said Mark Black, owner of Cycle City Wyoming, a powersports business in Evanston. “Our issue now is the supply chain, where the manufacturers are limiting not only quantities but models as well, and sometimes shipping incomplete units that are waiting on chips for instrument clusters. The demand has been pretty consistent and I don’t see it dramatically decreasing for the near future.” 

Wyoming State Parks expects next year’s BEA report to show that outdoor recreation activities played a strong role in the state’s economic rebound, particularly since most closures and travel restrictions were eased or lifted.  

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Lander Residents Divided Over ‘Giant Ladder’ For Climbing Debate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The proposed addition of what has been described as a “giant ladder” to help visitors climb a steep cliff in Sinks Canyon near Lander has many of the city’s residents divided.

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, is one of the people fighting against the proposed “via ferrata,” a cable and rung system that allows users to climb steep rock faces, while resident and author Sam Lightner, Jr. is one of its most vocal supporter.

Case told Cowboy State Daily that nearly 200 signs protesting the proposed via ferrata — which means “iron path” — have popped up all over town in recent weeks.

“Everybody is opposed to the development of Sinks Canyon,” Case told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “They love Sinks Canyon. They just don’t want to see it overdeveloped.”

Sinks Canyon State Park is a somewhat small but heavily used park in Fremont County that sees several hundred thousand visitations annually. Though operated by Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department owns the majority of the park’s 585 acres.

Case noted that much of the issue isn’t with the via ferrata itself, but the proposed location, a north-facing cliff near the mouth of the canyon that is home to peregrine falcon nests.

Peregrine falcons saw a major decline in their population during the 20th century across the United States and species was listed as endangered in 1970.

However, the population began to bounce back in the 1980s and 1990s due to various conservation efforts. According to WyoFile, some opponents of the via ferrata cite the negative impact on the birds as one of the reasons to fight it.

Case said that other animals regularly pass through that canyon area as well, so the via ferrata and a proposed visitor center would have a negative impact on them.

“Ignoring the importance of this narrow section [of the canyon] to the movement of animals, State Parks intends to plug  the critical part with a new visitor center building and associated facilities,” Case wrote in an “alternative master plan” about the via ferrata. “At the same time, activity  related to improved access for the via ferrata will disturb the constricted paths on the other side of the  river, the only place animals are able to move without close human contact.”

WyoFile reported that Wyoming State Parks initiated a master plan process in 2019. Prior to that, park improvements were guided by a plan from 1975.

When the plan was released in October 2020 following more than a year of meetings, surveys, small group interviews and more, it laid out a vision of a park with better parking and more trails, a larger visitors center, more educational opportunities and augmented recreation opportunities. 

Among the proposals was the via ferrata. The idea for its construction was proposed by a group of Lander residents as a way to draw visitors and boost the town’s tourist economy.

According to a column Lightner wrote for Cowboy State Daily in April, an independent study conducted on a via ferrata built in Ouray, Colorado, concluded Lander could expect $1 million in added revenue due to increased visitation by people taking advantage of the climbing system.

Lightner sent Cowboy State Daily a new proposal for the via ferrata on Monday which suggested that it be built on the Gunky Buttress area, a sandstone wall across from the Sawmill campground on the north side of canyon’s main entry road.

The via ferrata proponents proposed that $2,000 of the donated funds for the iron path be donated to Sinks Canyon for an interpretive site at the petroglyphs at the far north end of the buttress, which would “help make the area a focus of attention in the park and enhance interest in the legacy the local tribes have in the park.”

They also suggested that a trail that continues up to a high point in the canyon would be “excellent” for an interpretive site.

“One of the things we like about the via ferrata on the northwest facing wall is that from its highpoint…you can see many of the peaks of the central Wind River Range. A trail above the Gunky Buttress location could reach a similar view point (roughly the same elevation),” the proponents wrote. “Though it would not afford great views of the central Winds, it would reveal the peaks of the southern Winds and much of the canyon could be seen. An interpretive site explaining the view and perhaps the geology and geography could be built here with a trail that links back down into the canyon and parking.”

In return for this compromise, the group asked the Sinks Canyon Wild and Friends of Sinks Canyon (two groups opposing the via ferrata) to endorse the project and asked that Sinks Canyon Wild contribute another $2,000 to the interpretive sites.

“The Sinks Canyon Via Ferrata will likely make a few Yellowstone bound tourists stop to try out what we in Fremont County already know –  Lander is a wonderful place with lots of recreation,” Lightner wrote in his April column. “Perhaps they will take in the family-friendly via ferrata, then have dinner in town, stay in a hotel, have breakfast, shop, etc. They may even find out that we are a growing center for mountain biking, or that partaking of the via ferrata is a good first step in learning to climb, which they can do in Lander. This will be done using a natural resource we have and in a way that does not harm the wildlife.”

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Wyoming Ranks Third For Most Dependent On Outdoor Economy

in Wyoming outdoors/News
Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Tourism:

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By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square

Wyoming is the third most dependent state on the outdoor recreation economy, according to a recent analysis.

The analysis was performed by Outdoorsy, a recreational vehicle renting platform, which used data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’ most recent Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (2019).

Outdoorsy assigned Wyoming an outdoor recreation dependency index of 94.2 only behind Montana and Hawaii, which earned ratings of 94.8 and 100.0, respectively.

The ratings are based on three key metrics which the analysis looked at to determine dependency: gross domestic product (GDP), employment, and total compensation.

With 5.2% of Wyoming’s jobs based in outdoor recreation, employment garners the biggest impact from the outdoor economy, according to the analysis.

Wyoming’s tourism industry, under which outdoor recreation falls, is the state’s second biggest industry, according to Sy Gilliland, president of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association.

Winter, summer and fall are the busiest times for Wyoming’s outdoor recreation industry, Gilliland said.

Outdoorsy’s analysis ranked snow activities – like skiing and snowmobiling – as having the biggest impact economically in Wyoming. 

Most of that activity is concentrated around Jackson Hole, according to Gilliland, but the rest of the state gets a sliver of the pie during the other seasons – especially fall.

“The fall is primarily made up of hunting and sportsmen coming from all over the world and all over the nation,” he told The Center Square in an interview. “They’ll start converging on Wyoming in late August and they’ll stay through November. And that benefits pretty much every community in Wyoming as our big game herds are scattered through the whole state.”

Hunting is an area where Gilliland thinks the state could expand.

“Licenses are issued on an allocation to residents versus non-residents based upon politics,” he said. “So if politics were to change and we were able to issue more of those licenses to non-residents you could see another jump in our tourism economy that way.”

Eco tourism, wildlife safaris and rock climbing are gaining a bigger share of the market, he noted as well.

“The Division of Tourism – I think they have their finger on the pulse of pretty much all aspects of our tourism industry, and I think they do a really good job of promoting Wyoming – and maybe even too good,” he said. “I mean, to see an increase of 19% over 2019 is pretty dang impressive.”

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Colorado Parks Staff Catch Man Dumping Human Waste, Make Him Clean It Up

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

We shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t dump (pun intended) human or any other type of waste in streams, lakes or other public bodies of water. It’s gross.

But a man in Colorado was busted doing exactly this on Monday by Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff.

“This man was caught dumping bags of human waste from his camp latrine in a high mountain stream,” said a tweet from Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s northeast office. “Charges were filed for littering public lands after wildlife officer Joe Nicholson supervised him cleaning up the waste.”

The post included two photos, one showing the man in question (although from behind) while he was cleaning up trash in a stream, which is a part of Clear Creek not far outside of Denver.

A follow-up post from the department said that Nicholson wanted to remind people who were camping or recreating in the Clear Creek area and other wildlife spots, to not use natural landscapes or water as a toilet or personal dump.

The man cited received a court summons and a judge will decide the fine for dumping waste in the stream.

According to the National Park Service, people recreating outdoors should use park toilet facilities when possible. Otherwise, they should deposit solid human waste in holes dug six to eight inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. The holes should be covered and disguised when finished.

People should pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.

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Gordon Dedicating $6M For Wyoming Parks, Historic Sites

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Up to $6.5 million of Wyoming’s remaining CARES Act funds will be used to fund expansions at Wyoming’s state parks and historic sites, Gov. Mark Gordon has announced.

This money will be used to add camping facilities to allow more visitors to spend more time outside, boosting the state’s tourism industry and addressing park overcrowding caused by the pandemic, Gordon said.

“Expanding outdoor recreation opportunities will benefit the state, and will provide an immediate return on investment,” Gordon said. “The public appreciated the fact that our parks remained open last year, providing a healthy option to relieve the stress of the pandemic. Strengthening our state park system is important to Wyoming’s long-term economic health as well.”

The funds will be used to increase overnight camping capacity at the state’s parks by 18% to meet the significant increase in demand Wyoming state parks have seen since 2020. A portion of the funds will also be used to expand day-use areas and add picnic shelters and parking space.

Wyoming state parks saw a 36% increase in visitation in 2020, which translated to more than 1.4 million additional visitors. Visitors exceeded capacity limits at most sites. 

“As Wyoming continues to be a top outdoor destination for tourists, we are seeing campsites, lodging and other amenities nearly booked for the summer, especially throughout state parks,” said Diane Shober, executive director for the Wyoming Office of Tourism. “This is a great opportunity to meet summer travel demand while continuing to offer visitors and residents alike a memorable outdoor adventure.”

Wyoming state parks produce an annual economic impact of approximately $1.5 billion, according to the preliminary draft of an economic impact study from the University of Wyoming. 

The increase in visitation seen last year is expected to continue in 2021 based on this season’s campsite reservations.

State Parks Director Darin Westby emphasized that the additional campsites and added day-use facilities will be added quickly to the parks to provide additional opportunities to visitors this summer. These facilities may initially be temporary, but will continue to be improved upon as additional funds become available. 

“We have an amazing team and they are excited and working very hard to offer these additional campsites, developed to get people outdoors and recreating to help achieve the agency’s mission of impacting communities and enhancing lives” Westby said.   

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Grand Teton Saw Busiest April on Record

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Grand Teton National Park saw its busiest April in recorded history this year, with 87,739 recreation visits last month.

This is a 48% increase over figures from April 2019, the most recent available because of the park’s closure last April due to the coronavirus.

The list below shows April recreation visits over the last several years:

Park staff are working to provide quality visitor experiences in the face of what officials predict will be a busy summer season.

Despite last year’s closure through the spring, the park hosted 3,289,639 visits in 2020, the fourth highest number of recreation visits for one year in the park’s history, according to the National Park Service. The park was closed from March 24 to May 18 due to health and safety concerns.

Compared to 2019, total recreation visits for the year declined by only 3.4%.

Visitors to the park are highly encouraged to plan ahead and recreate responsibly in order to make the most of their visit and to help ensure this iconic landscape may be enjoyed by future generations.

Park employees will also collect data and conduct visitation studies to better understand changing visitation trends in the park.

Consistent with CDC recommendations, fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear masks inside park facilities or outdoors. A person is considered fully vaccinated at least two weeks after receiving the final dose of the vaccine.

Those who are not fully vaccinated must continue to wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces where physical distancing is not possible.

Visitors to Grand Teton are encouraged to “do your part” and recreate responsibly. Visitors are also encouraged to know they will have a place to stay overnight upon arrival. Reservations are required for all park campgrounds and can be booked on Recreation.gov.

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Barrasso Introduces Bill Allowing People to Share Videos of Public Lands On Social Media

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso introduced a bill this week that would allow people to share videos recorded on public lands on social media, something they’re not technically allowed to do at this point.

The legislation, the Federal Interior Land Media Act, is intended to modernize film permitting on public lands in order to keep pace with changing technology and social media, Barrasso said. It also eliminates burdensome and unnecessary regulations.

“Wyoming is home to some of the most beautiful national parks and public lands in the country. Americans should be able to fully enjoy them and share their experiences,” said Barrasso, who introduced the legislation Thursday. “The FILM Act will streamline the permitting process for filming on public lands. It gives outdoorsmen and women the ability to share their adventures without having to deal with burdensome red tape. The FILM Act allows Americans across the nation to experience all that Wyoming has to offer.” 

Commercial film and photographic activities on federal public lands now requires specific permits and fees and technically, by sharing photos on social media, the people who record videos on public land without obtaining a permit can be subject to punishment.

Barrasso’s bill would exempt certain video, digital and audio recording activities from fees and permitting, put uniform rules for such activities in place across all federal lands and streamline permit processing, when permits are considered necessary.

It would specifies that fees are not be required for commercial or non-commercial content creation, regardless of the distribution platform, as long as the filming takes place at a location where the public is allowed, complies with rules and laws, is conducted in a manner that doesn’t disturb wildlife or other visitors and involves groups of fewer than 10.

Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, praised Barrasso’s work in introducing the act.

“We live in an age when people from all walks of life can share their adventure stories in a virtual environment,” she said. “The FILM Act will guarantee that the people who visit Wyoming’s parks and public lands can record and share their stories online and through social media without asking the government for permission. I feel like this is a really good bill and will bring us forward to the 21st century.”

New Public Roadway In Sublette Range Will Allow Access to 33K Acres of Land

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A new public road being installed this summer will allow people access to more than 32,900 acres of public land in the Sublette Mountain range in western Wyoming.

The agreement, targeted to take effect in the summer, will create a permanent public roadway and a parking area linked to the Groo Canyon trail from Highway 30 north of Cokeville near the Wyoming-Idaho border.

Once finalized, the new entry point will allow access across private ranchland to lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management known as the Raymond Mountain Wilderness Study Area and additional state and federal lands beyond that.

“Creating and improving public access is key to who we are as an organization and our mission,” said Kyle Weaver, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president and CEO. “There is currently limited access to the west side of the Sublette Range. This action will change that.”

Historically, elk management has been particularly difficult in the Sublette Range because of limited public access. The new agreement will allow improved hunter access and opportunity, thus allowing the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to better attain population management objectives for elk, deer, moose, mountain lions and black bears.

“As the Wyoming Game and Fish Department evaluates and pursues access projects, we look for opportunities that will have a substantial positive impact for our constituents and we feel the Raymond Mountain Public Access Area will provide that,” said Sean Bibbey, Game and Fish lands branch chief. “The department looks forward to developing this area for use by the public in the coming year and we want to thank RMEF and the other partners on this project for their hard work and support to make this opportunity happen.”

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Free New Year’s Day Hikes To Be Held Across Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Those looking to get a head start on their New Year’s resolutions can start off 2021 on the right foot with the annual First Day Hike at state parks on New Year’s Day.

However, there will be a few changes implemented this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Participants will be asked to adhere to social distancing guidelines and pre- and post-hike refreshments will not be made available as in the past due to coronavirus concerns.

However, members of the public are encouraged to bring their own snacks and hot beverages.

This year, 11 New Year’s Day guided hikes and walks will be offered at state park and historic site venues, held in conjunction with similar hikes held in all 50 states as a part of the America’s State Parks First Day Hikes initiative.

This is the 10th consecutive year Wyoming is offering free First Day Hikes.

Park staff and volunteers will lead this year’s hikes, which will range in distance from 1/2 to 3.5 miles.

Details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain and tips regarding proper clothing are listed on the America’s State Parks website.

In Wyoming, hikes will be offered at the following locations and times:

Bear River State Park – Approx. 1-2-mile hike in the park on easy terrain, meet at Bear River State Park Visitor Center, 10 a.m., 307-789-6547

Boysen State Park – Two-mile hike through moderate to difficult terrain, meet at park headquarters, 10 a.m., 307-876-2796

Buffalo Bill State Park – Four-mile hike on easy terrain, meet at Hayden Arch Bridge (1.5 miles out of town on Old Yellowstone Hwy.), 9 a.m., 307-587-9227

Curt Gowdy State Park – Two-mile hike on easy to moderate terrain, meet at Curt Gowdy Visitor Center, 11 a.m., 307-632-7946

Fort Bridger State Historic Site – One-mile hike on easy terrain, meet at Post Trader’s Store, 1 p.m., 307-782-3842

Pioneer Museum – The hike distance will be an easy one-mile hike around the fairgrounds; meet at WY Pioneer Memorial Museum lobby at 10 am, afterwards join the group for hot chocolate and coffee to warm up in the Museum lobby, 307-358-9288

Guernsey State Park – 3.5-mile hike, start and end at the Castle, 10 a.m., 307-836-2334

Hot Springs State Park – Easy ½-mile or more difficult one-mile hikes, meet at the Chamber Office, 11 a.m., 307-864-2176

Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site – One-mile hike over easy terrain, meet in main parking lot, 10 a.m., 307-469-2234

Sinks Canyon State Park – One-mile hike on easy to moderate terrain, meet at Nature Trail parking lot, 1 p.m., 307-332-6333

South Pass City State Historic Site – Two-mile hike, meet at Dance Hall, 1 p.m., 307-332-3684

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Outdoor Recreation & Tourism: A Look at the Numbers

in Cat Urbigkit/Recreation/Column/Tourism
Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Tourism:

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

A new report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) shows that outdoor recreation contributes 4.4. percent of Wyoming’s gross domestic product. That’s something to celebrate, with Wyoming’s percentage among the highest in the nation, behind only Hawaii, Montana, and Maine.

According to the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Office, outdoor recreation “contributes $1.6 billion to Wyoming’s economy” and “accounts for 23,036 jobs or 8 percent of total employment in Wyoming which is the highest in the nation. Those jobs also account for 4.7 percent of total compensation in the state, which is second in the nation behind Hawaii at 5.1 percent.”

Curious about how these numbers are compiled, I turned to the BEA website for the details, including the methodology used in these estimates. The BEA report attempts to isolate the economic activity associated with outdoor recreation spending and production within a state’s economy.

The largest chunk (72%) of the $1.6 billion outdoor recreation value contributed to the state’s economy is in the form of “supporting outdoor recreation,” primarily via travel and tourism (food, beverages, lodging, shopping, souvenirs, and transportation) more than 50 miles from home.

Another 20% of that $1.6 billion is classified as “conventional” outdoor recreation such as bicycling, boating, fishing, climbing/camping/hiking, hunting, shooting sports, motorcycle/all-terrain vehicle use, recreational flying, RVing, snow activities (skiing, snowmobiling, snowboarding, dog mushing), and other conventional outdoor activities such as skating, rafting, rock hounding, races, running/walking/jogging, and wildlife watching and birding.

The remaining 8% is “other” outdoor recreation including amusement/water parks, festivals, sporting events, concerts, guided tour and outfitted travel, gardening, game areas (tennis and golf), field sports, swimming, yard sports, and multi-use apparel and accessories (bug spray, sunscreen, coolers, GPS equipment, watches, backpacks, etc.).

The new BEA report puts outdoor recreation’s contribution to Wyoming’s economy at $1.6 billion, and I understand the methodology used to generate that number. Seeking more information about our state’s top industries, I turned to the Wyoming Business Council’s industry profiles, where I read that the #2 industry in Wyoming is tourism, with “$5.6 billion consumer spending on outdoor rec.”

Although the business council suggests “50,000 jobs created by outdoor rec – more than oil, gas, mining and extraction combined,” the BAE reports the total outdoor recreation employment level in Wyoming is just over 23,000 people in 2017. It took some searching, but I found that the numbers cited by the Wyoming Business Council came from the trade group Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). The bottom line is that the OIA’s numbers were about double the numbers released by the BEA, apparently because they used a different methodology.

The Wyoming Office of Tourism uses yet another number: “domestic and international visitors in Wyoming spent $3.8 billion” in the state in 2018, with the state’s tourism industry supporting 32,290 full and part-time jobs.”

Further digging revealed that the State of Wyoming’s website description of the state’s economy is sadly outdated, with most recent statistics more than a decade old. That same state information page still lists Matt Mead as Wyoming’s governor, an indication of neglecting to keep up with the times.

Curious about the state’s other top industries, I looked for agricultural statistics. The Wyoming Business Council’s estimate of $1.8 billion in agriculture worth to the state’s economy annually was an easy one, since that number comes from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the majority of that number ($1.44 billion) is simply cash receipts for ag products sold (cattle, sheep, hogs, hay, sugarbeets, corn, etc.). But those statistics don’t attempt to demonstrate the total value of ag spending in the state (such as the sales of vehicles, machinery, equipment, veterinary services and supplies, outdoor clothing and farm/ranch supplies, etc.) or the investment in ag facilities and properties.

Mining (oil, gas, trona, and coal) have ranked #1 in contributions to Wyoming’s economy, providing substantial revenues to governments, employing workers, and gross production values. But with so much upheaval in various segments of the state’s mining industry in the last few years, and wary of the importance of what was being measured or and how it was being valued, I gave up trying.

I don’t doubt the importance of the outdoor recreation industry, and my guess is that the BAE report is the closest to being accurate, but it also has its limitations. All these assessments for various industry sectors sum up what we already knew: they compare apples to oranges and every segment of Wyoming’s economy is important.

What we can agree on is that the majority of people in Wyoming participate in outdoor recreation, whether it’s rig hands stopping to admire a bull moose on the way to work on a drilling rig, a parent purchasing a child’s first bicycle, or a rancher taking new neighbors out to visit a local sage grouse lek. We’re all in this together.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

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