With the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City this week, it is a good time to reflect on what we have and how to protect it.
World class recreational opportunities are found throughout Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, a region that boasts one of the most successful recreation economies in the country, thanks to several national parks and iconic landscapes such as the San Rafael Swell, the Dirty Devil River and Desolation Canyon.
For decades these fantastic natural areas, which include world-famous paddling, rock climbing, mountain biking, canyoneering and hiking, have reliably attracted tourists to our hometown of Moab.
These unique recreation opportunities also attract permanent residents, resulting in an increased tax base for our town that has helped fund a new hospital, pool, library and school in the last five years alone. Our community depends on these regional recreational assets to protect our local economy and quality of life.
As longtime Utah rock-climbing and mountain-biking guides and advocates we understand the direct connection between land conservation and the economy. Unfortunately, this golden goose is threatened by numerous industrial development proposals.
A recent Bureau of Land Management plan considers whether 2.4 million acres in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming should be leased for experimental oil shale and tar sands development.
Because we want a sustainable and healthy economy for our families and businesses, we support the BLM's Alternative 3, which appropriately recognizes the need for significant additional research and takes a precautionary approach toward the expansion of unproven industrial developments that have the potential to permanently degrade the economy and landscape of southeastern Utah.
Oil shale and tar sands development is one of the dirtiest ways to produce energy, so why would we want to threaten the growing and sustainable recreation economy that contributes $5.8 billion annually to Utah's economy, supports 65,000 jobs across the state, and generates nearly $300 million in annual state tax revenues?
A recent Outdoor Industry Association study shows that as the national economy slumped, the outdoor recreation industry grew, driving $646 billion in annual spending and supporting 6.1 million domestic jobs.
In Grand County, more than 70 percent of all jobs are created by sustainable recreation and service-related businesses. Regional economic reports show that public lands in places like Grand County have directly and consistently supported wage and job growth over the last 20 years.
More than one-third of households in our county have a member that works in a business related to public lands recreation, and nearly two-thirds of local residents indicate that public lands are "extremely important" to their business.
Meanwhile, due to technological developments that reduce the need for employees, the share of residents employed in the mining industry has fallen like a rock and is stuck at 2-3 percent of Grand County's total employment.
We support the Outdoor Alliance a coalition of national human-powered recreation groups who also advocate that before the BLM permits any commercial leases for experimental oil shale or tar sands development, more research must demonstrate that these proposed developments do not permanently harm the irreplaceable resources that currently support Utah's growing and sustainable recreation economy.
While energy resources can be developed in a measured and responsible fashion, we must carefully balance other values and uses of public lands that are vital to our local businesses and quality of life. Let's make sure our goose keeps laying golden eggs.
Jason Keith is with the Access Fund, which supports and represents more than 2.3 million climbers nationwide. He lives in Moab. Ashley Korenblat is a member of the International Mountain Bicycling Association and owner of Western Spirit Cycling in Moab.