Op-ed: BLM's deferral of leases shows the right balance
Recently the Bureau of Land Management deferred oil and gas leases for 100,000 acres around the spectacular San Rafael Swell region to give the agency additional time to consider impacts on non-energy resources. These include potential recreation and cultural areas, sensitive species, archaeological sites and impacts to the Old Spanish Trail.
While not directly engaged in protesting the lease sales, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) supports this deferral because it begins to strike the right balance for economic development across Utah; the action moves forward with some leases, takes care of what we have in recreationally significant public lands and guarantees appropriate parcels may be leased once the BLM review is completed.
It makes sense for Congressional leaders to be vocally supportive of public land managers, like Utah's BLM Director Juan Palma, who strive to strike an appropriate and proportional economic balance for citizens. Tying up every acre in Utah for any single industry, whether that is energy development or outdoor recreation, is not in the state's remunerative interest. An economic strategy that is built to last requires a pragmatic and lucrative symmetry between extraction, recreation and conservation.
Following the BLM announcement, Utah's Senate leaders led a meretricious sky-is-falling chorus outlining the devastating impacts on the oil and gas industry. However, they failed to mention that the BLM is leasing 44,000 additional acres that materially add to more than 4 million acres of existing oil and gas leases already in place on BLM managed lands within Utah.
What is missing from this dialogue is the positive effects this equitable BLM decision would have on the $12 billion in annual consumer spending on outdoor recreation in Utah, the 122,400 Utah based jobs, or the $3.6 billion in state wages and salaries dependent on recreational access to places like the San Rafael Swell.
It is time to stop propagandizing one-sided arguments about public lands without providing an alternative vision for how Congress and federal agencies will ensure the economic well being for the 2.1 million Americans who directly depend on energy jobs or the 6.1 million Americans whose jobs depend on access to quality places to play. Our nation and western communities need and deserve a balanced approach to remain strong, growing and vibrant.
The outdoor recreation industry can and should have a symbiotic, collaborative relationship with the energy industry. It is the job of our policymakers to understand and impartially evaluate all needs on public lands so that Utahns and frankly all Americans do not have to choose between extraction and a full spectrum of outdoor recreation experiences. It is a false and unnecessary choice.
Recently, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert showed civic vision and leadership by outlining an economic plan for the state that endeavors to recognize both interest groups with parity. The governor's newly unveiled outdoor recreation vision along with his long-range energy plan place Utah on the proper path to benefit economically from multiple industry sectors.
Unfortunately, the heightened political rhetoric over last week's decision implies that some Utah policymakers still have a long way to go before they see the wisdom in a balanced approach to energy development and outdoor recreation
All Utahns will win when all Utah's business and political leaders display a consistent full-throated defense and vision for Utah's parks, rivers, trails and special places that matches their outspoken passion for the benefits of energy development.
Frank Hugelmeyer is president and CEO of the Outdoor Industry Association.