The outdoor recreation industry has never gotten any respect. The nation’s leaders have treated it like a delinquent kid living in the basement.

However, that kid may soon put on a suit with his sneakers and head for Washington, D.C.

At the behest of Congress, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis looked at the importance of outdoor recreation in the nation’s economy. The bureau released findings last fall that showed that outdoor recreation accounted for 2.2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2016.

It ranked higher than utilities, mining (including oil and gas), chemical products manufacturing, telecommunications and agriculture. It generated $412 billion in 2016 and employed 4.6 million people.

The top component of outdoor recreation was boating/fishing at $38.2 billion, followed by RVing, tours and motorcycling. Lumped together, snow sports, climbing/hiking/tent camping and bicycling totaled $21.9 billion.

If the industry organizes itself well, the sound of its voice should grow from a whisper to a roar in the nation’s capital.

Idaho is famous for outdoor recreation. Now that the industry’s economic clout is established, Idaho’s senators and congressmen should stop dismissing it and step up when wildlife and wild lands are threatened.

This week, the Trump administration rolled back endangered species protections to benefit the mining industry. A powerful outdoor recreation industry lobby would have made politicians think twice about such an action.

It’s time for outdoor recreation businesses to build a powerful, unified political lobby and to use their newly discovered power to protect the great outdoors.

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