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The wilderness debate is about jobs

Published January 2, 2011 12:38 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

On December 23, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issued a bold announcement establishing new Bureau of Land Management guidance for identifying public lands with "wilderness characteristics," a great step forward for all Americans and America's outdoor recreation economy.

Secretary Salazar's announcement properly places preservation and wise stewardship of outdoor recreation venues on equal footing with other uses of public lands. These wilderness-quality lands provide the backdrop for a uniquely American experience allowing visitors to learn about important cultural and natural resources, and access to unparalleled opportunities for active recreation, hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, adventure and solitude.

The active outdoor recreation industry contributes $730 billion annually to the national economy, supports 6.5 million American jobs, generates $49 billion in national tax revenue, and produces $289 billion annually in retail sales and services.

Preserving these wild lands is not only a sound economic decision, but it protects essential parts of our culture as Americans. Globally, outdoor recreation is dominated by leading U.S. brands, which in turn are built upon and inspired by the images of America's iconic wild landscapes.

As the well-known futurist Stuart Brand wrote, "Natural systems are priceless in value and nearly impossible to replace, but they are cheap to maintain. All you have to do is defend them."

Secretary Salazar's action does just that. He has acted to restore a balanced and economically smart approach to the management of our wilderness landscapes. Now the BLM must follow his directive and the secretary's team must challenge the agency to ensure such enlightened stewardship occurs.

For too long the value of preserving American landscapes and ensuring their integrity and availability for outdoor recreation has taken a back seat to oil, gas, and mineral extraction.

Comparatively, the economic value of active outdoor recreation had not been properly calculated or considered in land management decision-making.

For years, colleagues in the outdoor industry have recognized the tired, old sound-bite debate of "jobs vs. preservation" as overlooking the 6.5 million Americans whose jobs are created by the active outdoor recreation economy. It is as if the $730 billion contributed to the American economy annually did not exist.

Secretary Salazar's action has reframed the debate and acknowledged our industry's contribution to the health and vibrancy of the economy, while recognizing the integrity of wild places.

Hence, the outdated debate of  "jobs vs. preservation" is now replaced with a  "jobs vs. jobs" discussion. Consider further the type of jobs, the long term sustainability of those jobs, their contributions to the health of our families and communities, and what sort of economic, natural, and societal legacies we want to leave our children.

And let's not forget those legacies. Each succeeding generation of Americans has used these public wilderness landscapes as unique resources by which to define themselves.

Secretary Salazar's plan affirms that our children will not curse our generation as one so short-sighted that we altered or destroyed our pristine landscape and American legacies. Instead, this action will allow our children and grandchildren to reflect upon our foresight to have not forgotten those who are still to come.

John Sawhill, the longtime president of the Nature Conservancy, wrote: " In the end our society will be judged not only by what we created but also by what we refused to destroy."

Thank you, Secretary Salazar, for acting in the spirit of John Sawhill and for bringing balance to the management of our public lands.

Peter Metcalf is the CEO, president and co-founder of Salt Lake City-based Black Diamond Equipment Ltd.