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Policy & Government

California creates Office of Sustainable Outdoor Recreation

With an outdoor recreation economy of $92 billion, the state joins seven others with offices of outdoor recreation.

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Beaches, mountains, desert, plains, forests—California has it all and is well-known as a western playground for all types of adventure.

Yesterday, the legislature recognized the need to protect and promote the state’s precious land. They unanimously passed a bill to create the Office of Sustainable Outdoor Recreation, making California the 12th state with a task force or office.

Map of OREC offices with the addition of California
As of August 2018, eight states have government offices and four other states have task forces or advisory councils.Infographic by Kristin Hostetter and Jackie McCaffrey

Born, raised, and still based in Marin—across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco— Outside PR President Gordon Wright gushed about what a good day it is for his home state to finally have an office for recreation.

“The reason why I’m so excited about it is outdoor recreation is enormous in California,” Wright said. “The fact that it was passed by a unanimous vote is very telling. There is not a lot of unanimity in any political issue anywhere, so the fact that the state came together  indicates that this is an important priority for California.”

While a mandate for the office has not been written yet, Wright hopes the new office takes two issues under its wing: Promoting the diversity of sports as well as the diversity of people who partake, and reconciling any tensions between mountain bikers and hikers, for example, to unite all types of outdoorists.

Outdoor industry veteran Kenji Haroutunian said it’s a long time coming. He said the industry needs a strong voice to bridge the connection between public lands and the public, meaning voters, urbanites, and people of all cultures and ages and experiences.

“It’s so exciting that we, as Californians involved in active outdoor recreation and the industry around it, are on the verge of having a legislated office dedicated to increasing service and access to our wild spaces and growing industry,” he said. “This means powering a strong voice and shaping policy and investment to include more people recreating outside, while mitigating impacts and reducing barriers to participation.”

Haroutunian added, “Some think these are mutually exclusive efforts, but in my time in the industry as a guide, retailer, event producer, and access advocate, I have seen the future. It’s not mutually exclusive at all, in fact the opposite.”

Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) has led or been instrumental in the establishment of similar offices in states across the country. Michigan was the most recent state to create a council, following Vermont and with task forces.

Washington, Oregon, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and North Carolina already have official government offices in place, and leaders recently signed off on shared political principles.

“We look forward to working with the new Office of Sustainable Recreation to support California’s outdoor recreation economy, the largest of any state,” said Amy Roberts, OIA executive director. “Thank you to the California outdoor and business communities that contacted their elected officials and signed onto letters addressed to legislative leaders and administration officials in support of AB 1918 and California’s recreation economy.”

Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia was the primary author, and co-authors included Assembly Members Wendy Carrillo, Frank Bigelow, Kansen Chu, James Gallagher, Marc Levine, Rudy Salas Jr., Jim Wood, and Catherine Baker.

The bill now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.