Industry officials say Americans spend $646 billion a year on outdoor gear and apparel, off-road vehicles and travel and services, creating 6.1 million professional and seasonal jobs. Many American brands dominate the global marketplace for outdoor equipment.

In Washington, the 4,000-member Outdoor Industry Association tripled its PAC contributions in 2012 to nearly $90,000, according to data compiled by opensecrets.org. The industry spends around $300,000 a year on lobbying, but says it didn't push for Jewell's nomination and that she earned it on her own.

In Utah, the OIA pressured the state's Republican governor to treat outdoor recreation seriously by threatening to pull a lucrative trade show out of Salt Lake City. They have helped fund nonprofits that push for increased land preservation, sometimes butting heads with energy groups seeking to drill on federal lands.

"This is an economic engine, not just a bunch of guys trying to protect the land," said Mike Reberg, district director for Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah. "They created an economic perspective on why this stuff is important."

Lobbying disclosures show the OIA's leading issues are protecting wilderness lands and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Act, which steers money from offshore oil leases to recreation programs. It has teamed up with other industry players to push for a repeal of the 1930s tariff on imported shoes.

"Our industry is often overlooked because of how diverse and broad it is. It's not a normal economic sector," said Frank Hugelmeyer, OIA's president. "We're a horizontal industry that touches many traditional economic sectors."

Beyond her executive experience, it was Jewell's work on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association and for President Barack Obama's "America's Great Outdoors Initiative" brought her leadership to the attention of the White House.

"She knows the link between conservation and good jobs," Obama said at a White House ceremony Feb. 6. "She knows that there's no contradiction."

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