Angela Wright: Speculative leasing is a threat to recreation economy

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) A group of mountain bikers negotiate the practice loop on the Slickrock Trail near Moab, April 20, 2001.

Generations of Utahns have spent time hiking in Zion National Park, swimming in Lake Powell or mountain biking in Moab. In one way or another, we have all benefited from the tourism that these special places bring to our state.

Our business, Bingham Cyclery, has been in Utah for over 58 years. We have seen how important outdoor recreation is to both Utah’s identity and our economy, which is why we are so concerned by the proposal for oil and gas development right on top of the Slickrock Trail.

While we understand that energy exploration is needed, we can’t imagine that it would be absolutely necessary to drill anywhere near the Slickrock Trail. The non-profit Public Lands Solutions (PLS) recently released a report that calls for an update of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 which is the law that has put the Slickrock in danger.

The report focuses on communities in the American West, including Moab and Price. While Moab is a mature recreation economy and Price is up and coming, both have issues with lands that are needed for trails, but that are also being leased for oil and gas — even though they have very little potential for actual development.

So while the chance of serious mineral leasing income from these lands is slim, we know that outdoor recreation is $12.3 billion industry that directly supports 3.9 billion in wages and salaries, and 110,000 direct jobs, more than twice as many as mining and energy combined.

Despite the clear growth in the outdoor recreation economy, Donald Trump’s Department of Interior is pushing communities to lease more lands that have low potential, instead of investing in trails which we know bring both visitors and businesses to Utah. Would Goldman Sachs or Adobe or any of the Silicone Slope companies be able to attract great employees without Utah’s access to the great outdoors?

According to PLS, more than 90% of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management are available for oil and gas leasing, and only half of the 26 million acres leased are actually in production — leaving millions of acres with low potential unneeded by the oil and gas industry. Here in Utah, there is a growing number of communities focusing on access to public lands as a key component of their economic development strategies. We urge the Department of the Interior to support them.

With our first-in-the-nation Office of Recreation within the Governor’s Office of Economic Development here in Utah, we have known for quite some time that access to public land in its natural state is good for our economy. Thus our distress when at the end of 2019, the BLM quietly announced that it was planning to include what is arguably the most famous bike trail in the world, the Slickrock Trail, in an oil and gas lease auction scheduled for June 2020. Two of these parcels are located just above Moab, within a mile or two of Arches National Park, and in an area that, according to BLM, has low potential for future drilling.

It is our hope that Gov. Gary Herbert can request that these Moab parcels be deferred, which won’t solve the problem permanently, but will save the day for the moment. And to avoid these emergency deferrals going forward, we think it is time to update the 1920 Mineral Leasing Act to meet our 2020 needs.

U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto from Nevada has proposed new legislation that would end the practice of speculative leasing and provide more opportunity for outdoor recreation. I urge my fellow business owners to talk to our elected officials in DC about this legislation and other ways that they can support the public lands which make Utah the best place in the nation to get outside.

Angela Wright

Angela Wright, Salt Lake City, is the owner of Bingham Cyclery.