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Interior Pick Puts Outdoor Industry In Spotlight

At Thursday's hearing, Jewell cited federal statistics showing that the Interior Department generated more than $12 billion in revenue from energy production last year, and that visitors to national parks generated an estimated $30 billion in economic activity.

"These are impressive numbers. They underscore the important balance that the Department of the Interior must maintain to ensure that our public lands and waters are managed wisely, using the best science available, to harness their economic potential while preserving their multiple uses for future generations," she said.

Jewell, who also has experience in the oil industry and as a banker, already has been tested with demands as she prepares to take over the department, which manages 780,000 square miles of public lands, including the national parks.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski threatened to hold up Jewell's nomination if the Obama administration refuses to approve a road to an all-weather airport across a wildlife refuge in the Aleutian Islands. Murkowski called Jewell into her Washington office Feb. 27 on the demand, but said she's expecting departing interior secretary Ken Salazar to give the approval before he leaves office.

It wasn't long ago that that the notion of the outdoors industry holding major political clout would have been difficult to imagine.

"We've always thought the outdoor sector was important. It's just getting others to recognize it that was the challenge," said Sue Rechner, chief of Confluence Watersports, a Greenville, S.C., maker of Mad River canoes and other watersports brands.

Outdoor executives acknowledge they were somewhat naive when they started in politics. They first tried to lobby members of Congress by giving ice-ax awards â¿¿ that didn't cut it, said Metcalf, one of the industry's most active and passionate voices.

"Some of the feedback we began to get back was, 'By the way, this is Washington, D.C. Money talks. Nice to hear from you, but I got a campaign to run,'" he said. "So we began making contributions. It was clear if there wasn't any money behind it, we were compromising ourselves."

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