If you listen only to those pushing an anti-federal-government agenda such as Congressman Rob Bishop or state Rep. Howard Noel you might be convinced that the only way Utahns can benefit from federal lands is to drill them to barrenness or grind them under the wheels of all-terrain vehicles.
Those people would have you believe that the temporary jobs and economic booms created by the sporadic nature of producing energy from limited underground fossil remains are to be protected at all costs. And costs to the environment, water and wildlife are high.
If you discount, as they do, the limitless potential of developing, instead, the steady revenue stream created by visitors to Utah's national parks, monuments and forests, you'd get a skewed picture of the Beehive State's economy, present and future. That fact is underscored by a new report from the Department of the Interior that shows Utah benefits more than any other state from tourism and recreation on federal lands.
Some 21 million people visited Utah last year to participate in activities on federal lands, view the wildlife and spectacular scenery and enjoy the archaeological sites. Their spending generated $1.7 billion in economic output. Recreation on federal lands alone created jobs for 20,319 people statewide, 15,000 of them in rural areas. And that's during a nationwide recession.
Overall, the outdoor recreation industry supports 65,000 Utah jobs, produces nearly $4 billion annually in retail sales and services and generates nearly $300 million in annual state tax revenues, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Outdoor Retailer, the world's largest outdoor products tradeshow which is held in Salt Lake City annually, generates $40 million for the Beehive State each year.
And these jobs and revenue are steady, as long as the prime recreation areas are protected from rampant drilling and irresponsible ATV use. Drilling and mining, on the other hand, are based on temporary resources and subject to economically damaging boom-and-bust patterns.
The Bureau of Land Management has a mission to provide for multiple uses of most federal land in Utah. But some of those uses cannot co-exist. Oil and gas drilling and ATVs can leave permanent scars on the land that would repel tourists and hurt Utah's image as a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
Drilling leases granted as George W. Bush left the White House and later rescinded would have compromised the air quality, water and scenic vistas of some of Utah's most iconic parks. Such disregard for the value of these resources is economic foolishness.