It should come as no surprise, thanks to our state’s stunning geography, that the outdoor recreation economy generates $28 billion in consumer spending, not to mention $9.7 billion in wages and salaries, $2 billion in state and local tax revenue and 229,000 direct jobs. What remains puzzling, however, is how a 2.7-degree rise in temperature during the next 11 years would affect the outdoor recreation economy in Colorado and Boulder County. So we checked in with Andrew Pappas, manager of state and local policy at the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), for his take on the topic.
Boulder Weekly: In a recent U.N. report, climate experts say we have about a decade to get global emissions under control to prevent warming in excess of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m wondering if you can tell me how you see global warming impacting outdoor recreation in Boulder County if we don’t mitigate this in any way?
Andrew Pappas: Yeah, looking at those reports, they actually call out tourism and recreation as specific areas that will be impacted by climate change — more wildfires, flooding, animal migrations. We’re a recreation and tourism hotbed. It’s hard to predict the future of what that may end up looking like if we don’t start to work towards a solution.
BW: So it seems like the most obvious area would be skiing, if there’s not enough snow? The winter of 2018-19 not withstanding.
AP: Yeah, when you’re looking at the impact of snowfall to runoff, it impacts the entire economy of Boulder County and the surrounding areas, as these kinds of recreation havens have local businesses that rely on tourism. Businesses are trying to predict for the next season, and the next couple of seasons, not only what products they are making, but also what products they are buying as retail shops, and how to develop a kind of plan based on projected snowfall and runoff. Are they going to be able to plan based on what happened this year, with a large amount of snowfall, or plan based off the last two, three years where it’s been a little bit more difficult for these companies in the winter? It really does end up having an impact on a lot of the brands and these outdoor recreation communities.
BW: What about hiking and mountain biking? I know you mentioned it’s hard to predict, but, if there is less snowfall, would hiking and mountain biking be better and attract more money?
AP: There’s no real data that goes with that, but when you look at summer, fall, spring, one of the fears there is wildfires and drought. We’ve had massive fires in California that impact the air quality in California. So we worry that climate change will increase natural disasters; it does impact recreation and while it might not be directly tied, climate change does affect the quality of those experiences.
BW: And what about water sports?
AP: In water sports you see the impact of runoff on the guiding economy as well, where they’re trying to predict the season and the safety of the rivers. A lot of the guides, their first goal is to make sure that people who are coming and experiencing these waters stay safe, and that can be difficult with the high-runoff seasons as well as the low-runoff seasons, and they might be forced to shut down early. So it does have that full cycle impact.
BW: So if we could go back to animal migrations changing, I’m wondering if you could give me a couple of examples of how that might impact outdoor recreation?
AP: Bird-watching, hunting, fishing, angling, all those things are a massive part of the outdoor recreation economy and are affected by what’s happening with the temperatures. As the heat rises, it impacts how the animals migrate, where they’re finding their homes. And that will impact the recreation economy as people come to experience those activities.
BW: Could you identify some local companies here in Boulder County that are pursuing innovative ways to fight change?
AP: You’re seeing a lot of companies doing this in a variety of ways. You’ll see a company like REI investing in renewable energy; other companies are really looking at what they can do with their entire supply chain. So here in Boulder at OIA, we have an entire sustainability working group in the department. We focus on what is our impact on the environment, how are we going to be better stewards and really walk the walk ourselves and talk the talk before we make a policy. The outdoor industry is really looking at it from a holistic approach.
Editor’s note: Quotes from this conversation have been edited for clarity.