In the most recent Western States Survey, 91 percent of Utahns polled had visited federally managed Utah public lands in 2017. The Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development reports over 110,000 Utahns work in the outdoor recreation economy, and another 144,200 people earn their livelihood in Utah’s tourism industry.
These patrons might be surprised to learn that their own senator, Mike Lee, considers them to be “an upper-crust elite,” who are oppressing rural Utah communities with their desire for “rustic cabins, craft breweries, and artisanal coffee shops.”
After facilitating the wildly unpopular (and illegal) pillaging of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments, Lee furthered his anti-public lands political agenda during his June 29 speech which portrayed just how out of touch Lee is with Utah’s communities and economic realities.
Our state’s growth, prosperity and desirability for corporate relocations is due, in great part, to the stewarded, zoned and funded public lands that are such a defining component of Utah. I would know. Access to Utah’s public lands is why I brought Black Diamond here.
Only Lee seems to be confused on this point. He ignores the fact that over 40 percent of the workforce in Grand, Garfield and Kane counties owe their livelihood to outdoor recreation and tourism, and that wages in these industries are increasing 23 percent faster than other jobs. And he seems to forget outdoor recreation’s direct impact on Utah’s economy exceeds $12.4 billion. Lee’s proposal of disposing of our public lands would destroy the platform that Utah’s current and future economic prosperity and vibrant quality of life are built on.
If he spent any time on these lands alongside us, Lee would recognize why his second cousin, Stewart Udall, fought so passionately to preserve American wilderness across the country and for the creation of Canyonlands National Park here at home. Udall was the secretary of the Interior Department in the 1960s.
Udall understood that whether we were born here, or chose to make it our home, the story of our relationship with our land is the story of Utah. From the pioneers coming down Emigration Canyon, to the climbers, skiers and hikers going up Big Cottonwood Canyon or the thousands of annual summer vacations to one of Utah’s Big Five, to the ten’s of thousands of citizen sportsmen who love to hunt or fish, we know that, as Udall also wrote, “plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife, are in fact plans to protect man.”
Ours is not a story of moneyed elites demanding rural oppression. It is the opposite. It is all of us coming together to protect access, enjoy, and profit off our shared lands and their natural features and resources. This is Utah’s story.
If Lee gets his way and privatizes our public lands, they will become the playground of those elites. “No trespassing” signs will pop up as wealthy new landowners cut off access to their private hunting and fishing ranches. Utahns who’ve owned land for generations will find themselves outbid when they go up against the deep pockets of international extractive industries and agribusiness. After all, it took only a few months before mineral rights in Bears Ears were sold to a Canadian firm.
Lee’s anti-public lands ideology has blinded him to reality and the integral role these lands play in both our unique Utah high quality of life and our economic vibrancy. It is time for him to stop his relentless assault on our states greatest asset.
Peter Metcalf, Park City, is founder and former CEO of Black Diamond Equipment and vice chairman of the Conservation Alliance and of the Conservation Lands Foundation.