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Outdoor rec industry lashes out at Utah's public lands policy

Published August 2, 2012 10:49 am

Public lands • In closed-door meeting, group asks governor to adopt a collaborative approach.
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The nation's outdoor recreation industry association called on Utah political leaders Wednesday to adopt a new, inclusive approach to managing public lands in the state.

Following a closed-door meeting Wednesday with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the Outdoor Industry Association, read a statement from the trade group's governing board that chastised the state's leaders for "unfavorable positions" on public lands, such as a new law to take control of 30 million acres of federal lands in Utah and ongoing legal wrangling over roads in wilderness areas.

"It is disappointing that Utah — a place that draws outdoor businesses and enthusiasts alike — has not had a collaborative policy relationship with the outdoor industry," he said. Instead, at least recently, "the industry is often surprised and frustrated" by Utah's public lands policy.

"It should be the rare exception, not the rule," he added, "for Utah's leadership and congressional delegation to announce or implement policies with little to no consultation or warning for the companies whose lives depend on a well-managed outdoors."

Hugelmeyer said his group had a good first-ever meeting with Herbert, and it expects the state will step forward with proposals to address some of the industry's concerns in time for the trade group's next Salt Lake City meeting in January.

Herbert, meanwhile, exited the lunch-hour meeting with a sense that the big issue between the association and the state is finding a smart way to make more space for the group's burgeoning, bi-annual conventions, given limited exhibition space and lodging. He pledged to work with the group over the next year on solutions to the space crunch.

"I think they want to stay here," said the Republican governor. "I want them to stay here, so we are going to work together to see if we can accommodate that opportunity."

The association has been bringing its members to Utah's capital city for 15 years, and its conventions draw more than 46,000 visitors and $42.5 million annually to the economy. For the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 convention that begins Thursday, gear buyers and sellers are expected to bring another record-sized crowd to the city.

Herbert indicated politics was a less pressing issue.

"I think there are some issues out there that are legitimate and there are some that are rumor and myth," he said, insisting that national wilderness, parks and monuments remain protected and projecting little of the land will shift from public to private ownership, as some have claimed.

"For me, it's 'let's find the right balance,' — it shouldn't be too far to the right and it shouldn't be too far to the left," he said. "We ought to be good stewards of the land, and outdoor recreation is an important part of the economy ."

Peter Metcalf, a Salt Lake City area businessman and longtime member of the outdoor industry group, resigned from Herbert's ski and snowboard advisory group in June after going public with his view that political leaders were "killing the goose that lays the golden egg" with wrongheaded lands polices.

In response, Herbert challenged Metcalf to quit the board if he could not "work in the spirit of collaboration."

Peter S. Cooke, the Democrat trying to unseat Herbert in the November election, said in a statement Wednesday that he could understand why the trade show was thinking about leaving Utah in light of what he called "Herbert's land grab."

The law "is a senseless and costly idea, and essentially amounts to a declaration of war on the federal government, an entity that contributes millions of dollars to maintaining Utah's public lands," said Cooke in the statement. "These are funds we can't hope to duplicate as a state and are critical to maintaining public lands for tourism and outdoor recreation."

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah