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Op-ed: Federal lands transfer would be a blow to Utah’s recreation economy

First Published      Last Updated Jan 06 2016 05:09 pm

This week, 25,000 people will descend on downtown Salt Lake City for Outdoor Retailer, a twice-annual trade show for the outdoor industry. Since 1996, the outdoor industry has chosen to bring its show, and an estimated $45 million annual economic boost, to Utah, in part because of the incredible recreation opportunities nearby.

But American public lands in Utah — and their incredible recreation opportunities — are at risk. Just a few weeks ago, the Utah Legislature took its most radical step yet to seize our national public lands. A panel of legislators voted to spend $14 million in state taxpayer dollars to sue the federal government and privatize 30 million acres of American public lands in Utah.




Ill-conceived efforts to seize and sell off public lands are not limited to Utah. In the past year, a dozen western state legislatures have introduced bills demanding that the public give over parks, forests, deserts, wildlife areas and open spaces to private interests. These efforts are an aggressive land grab, with the goal of generating profit for the few instead of protecting access for all.

Utah's lawmakers are doing a disservice to their constituents by advancing such proposals. The outdoor recreation economy is a key, bipartisan issue for voters in western states. A recent poll released by Outdoor Industry Association in Utah's neighboring states of Colorado and Nevada showed that a majority of voters believe that public lands have a positive impact on protecting our nation's history and heritage, and will support candidates who share these beliefs. More than half of America's best outdoor recreation opportunities are on public lands. Losing access to our parks, forests, and wild places would devastate the outdoor recreation economy.

During Outdoor Retailer this week, hundreds of brands will demo their new gear and thousands of show attendees will take a break from meetings to ski and recreate on public land within an hour's drive of downtown Salt Lake City. In Utah, the outdoor industry generates $12 billion in consumer spending, provides 122,000 direct jobs and more than $850 million in state and local taxes. More than 80 percent of Utah residents participate in outdoor recreation each year.

This country's $646 billion recreation economy would not exist without accessible public lands. America is unique for protecting spectacular places and keeping them open for everyone to enjoy. Without mountains to ski, trails to hike and ride and crags to climb, there would be no market for skis, hiking boots, backpacks, mountain bikes and climbing ropes. Many towns in Utah and the people who live in them depend on open public lands to attract tourists and ensure vibrant local economies.

With so much incredible recreation within its borders, Utah could be leading the charge to defend public lands and keep them accessible for everyone. Suing for control of public lands guarantees that won't happen, but other efforts in Utah are more positive. During this year's National Park Centennial, millions will celebrate Utah's "Mighty 5" National Parks. Moab's Master Leasing Plan and Mountain Accord in the Wasatch show the promise of collaborative land management, aiming to balance development with recreation. Utah also created the first Office of Outdoor Recreation, a model Colorado and Washington have followed. Our public lands are a shared gift, and a shared responsibility deserving of honest dialogue and sound stewardship. We should not throw in the towel on our public lands – Utah needs them, Americans love them and our industry depends on them.

Adam Cramer is the executive director of Outdoor Alliance. John Sterling is executive director of The Conservation Alliance. Amy Roberts is Outdoor Industry Association's (OIA) executive director.

 

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