An editorial by Senator Mike Bell
Never has recreation in the great outdoors been more inviting to the public than it is today. While many look for new activities where people are easily distanced, Tennesseans are flocking to the woods, waters, fields, and trails to take advantage of our vast outdoor resources. Some are discovering nature’s wonders for the first time.
America’s sportsmen and women, a group that I am proud to represent as a member of the Tennessee Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, are dedicated to helping citizens find safe and responsible recreational opportunities to pursue their outdoor passions. This newfound interest in outdoor recreation represents an invaluable opportunity to introduce Tennesseans to the vital role sportsmen and women play in conservation.
Activities like hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and many other outdoor interests have provided an outlet for Americans to safely enjoy while adhering to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. In addition to the numerous documented mental and physical health benefits gained through these activities, maintaining access to hunting and fishing opportunities gives these citizens a chance to procure their own locally-sourced meat. This ability to be self-reliant is at a premium during the pandemic.
Increased participation in hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting has enormous conservation benefits through the American System of Conservation Funding. We have a “user pays-public benefits” approach that relies on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and self-imposed excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing tackle, and motorboat fuel to fund many state fish and wildlife management agencies. Outdoor recreation in Tennessee generates $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenues which continue conservation efforts and support local communities.
Throughout Tennessee, the outdoor recreation industry employs 188,000 citizens and provides $6.5 billion in wages and salaries. In fact, more jobs in Tennessee depend on outdoor recreation than on automotive manufacturing, despite several large plants and over 910 automotive suppliers located in the state. So, it is no surprise outdoor activities generate $21.6 billion in annual consumer spending for Tennessee.
During these unprecedented and tough economic times, outdoor recreation has become incredibly important for local economies. Recent surveys report that Tennessee’s 994,000 hunters and anglers alone spend $1.8 billion annually and support 26,389 jobs.
Unfortunately, the ability of America’s sportsmen and women to participate in their outdoor endeavors was not uniformly protected as statewide lockdown orders were announced. Several states saw actions that hindered or even eliminated the ability to participate in our treasured outdoor traditions. While largely enacted in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, these actions severely limited our outdoor opportunities without any measurable increase in public health or safety. To ensure that such restrictive actions are not used again, it is up to sportsmen and women to practice responsible recreation, showing by example that our outdoor pursuits can be performed safely. This can be accomplished by following a few simple guidelines:
- Plan ahead and purchase licenses and park passes online if available;
- Recreate close to home;
- Adhere to best practices for avoiding COVID-19;
- Follow state and federal guidelines;
- Pack out your trash as a courtesy to others and to avoid the appearance of overuse; and
- Share your adventures in a respectful way on social outlets
These unprecedented times represent a chance for a new generation of sportsmen and women to discover the passion that many of us already share. Be it through scouting for upcoming fall hunting seasons, or landing that first largemouth bass, now is the time to lead by example and plant the seeds for the next generation of sportsmen and women
To learn more about how others are using these challenging times as an opportunity to spend more time outdoors, search for #ResponsibleRecreation on social media. Likewise, for more information on recreating responsibly, or to take the Responsible Recreation pledge and help lead by example, visit www.responsible-recreation.org.