Are Utah’s Leaders Doing Enough to Protect our Landscapes and Playgrounds?

Recently, Frank Hugelmeyer of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) wrote an op-ed piece in the Salt Lake Tribune taking our state leaders to task for neglecting to preserve public lands, despite the overwhelming evidence of significant economic benefits to the State. OIA is a trade association for companies in the active outdoor recreation business. OIA provides trade services for over 4000 manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, sales representatives and retailers in the outdoor industry.

Presented here is the question for debate- Are Utah’s leaders doing enough to preserve and protect our outdoor landscapes? You can go to to vote and leave your opinion.

By Peter Metcalf

When you attend your 20th high school reunion, nearly everyone looks pretty good. Sub-40 year old youth maintains a body robustness that provides some amazing resilience to our own abuse & neglect.  However, when you go to your 30th high school reunion, you are shocked by the difference of those who are working to maintain their health and fitness vs. those who have neglected it.  The difference could not be more striking.


Well folks, Utah has turned 50 and has seen its 30th High School reunion come and go. Unless we get incredibly serious about maintaining the fitness of the state’s landscape, open space, wild lands fitness, it will be lost for all generations to come. And an industry – the Outdoor industry – one of Utah’s largest and most vibrant, will have its competitive advantage taken from it, and once again the cycle that brought companies like Black Diamond  here 20 years ago will start again but in reverse.

Utah’s elected leaders now recognize the critical importance that the active outdoor recreation industry plays in the states economic vibrancy and on Wednesday the 22nd of June the Governor’s office distributed a memo that was just issued from Secretary Salazar that stated and I quote “outdoor recreation supports more than 20,000 jobs in the state of Utah and contributed $1.7 billion in economic output in 2010.  About 15,000 of those jobs were located in rural communities, making Utah the top ranking state in the nation to benefit from rural jobs supported by Interior recreation programs and services”.

Yet despite this,  the effort by our state’s leadership to sustain the health & vibrancy of the public lands this industry is so dependent on are equivalent to an aging,  sedentary, declining fitness athlete utilizing tummy tucks, face lifts, and hair dying to present an illusion of fitness vs going to the effort to actually maintain one’s fitness and vibrancy. It works for awhile but at some point the illusion is gone

Since, this administration has taken office the outdoor industry has been showered with platitudes about the importance of our industry and how outdoor recreation is a priority economic sector for the state. And the praise is well-deserved by the huge contribution we make to the states economic vibrancy. However, when it comes to concrete actions to preserve and protect the god given iconic landscape that are integral to our well being and defining to this states allure as a tourist destination ,  this administrations actions have been either downright hostile or empty of nearly all substance.  Once these treasures are lost, they and the jobs the y bring can never be regained.  The citizens of this state and our recreational, money spending visitors deserve better.

Peter Metcalf is the President and CEO of Black Diamond Equipment in Salt Lake City.



By Ted Wilson

Wild Lands, the controversial policy announced by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar just before Christmas, ordered up a fresh inventory of lands having potential wilderness value under the 1964 Wilderness Act. During budget reconciliation, though, Congress defunded the policy so the secretary rescinded the order. This left the Wild Lands policy stranded.

Frank Hugelmeyer of the Outdoor Industry Association lamented this decision in his June 5 Tribune op-ed (“Utah leaders betraying recreation industry,” Opinion), criticizing state leadership for not backing outdoor industries enough. While I agree that the outdoor industry has been terrific for our state, I disagree with the notion that Utah’s leaders don’t care about wilderness or the outdoor industry.

The Outdoor Industry Association has been a boon to Utah. It brings in millions of dollars twice each year with its conventions and great manufacturers, like Black Diamond Equipment, to the state. Outdoor retailers have advanced many positive and economic benefits. Their dream of a Utah with a clean outdoors is more than worthy; it is visionary.

But there is more to the story — the reality of wilderness designation. I have worked hard to protect Utah’s real wilderness for 25 years as a mayor, a private citizen and now as Gov. Gary Herbert’s senior adviser on the environment. I have observed how the deep schism between wilderness advocates and economic development enthusiasts has stymied almost all wilderness efforts on Bureau of Land Management land.

There are two exceptions. The Cedar Mountains Wilderness area brought both sides together, though much of the motivation was to block radioactive storage. But the sun rose with the Washington County Land Bill of 2009. Environmentalists and county commissioners came together to advance a model law and, more importantly, precious wilderness.

After Washington County, enthusiasm sparked efforts in San Juan, Piute, and Emery counties. Today, San Juan and Piute are close to compromises setting aside large wilderness areas. In fact, San Juan’s is over 1 million acres.

For negotiations to succeed on land bills, though, both sides must trust the outcomes. So when the Salazar Wild Lands policy was issued last December — leaving out local involvement and bypassing congressional approval — commissioners in these counties asked the question, “Why should I trust this process when even Washington County could be reviewed again under Wild Lands and we lose certainty.” Broken trust kills any process.

I understand Hugelmeyer’s point that we need to continue the wilderness inventory. But the BLM need look no further than its own Resource Management Plans, which were worked on for five years at considerable expense and with input from all advocates. Those plans contain the very target that Wild Lands was set up to attain — a listing of potential wilderness land.

Then there is the question of real wilderness. Is it a good idea for wilderness groups to pay the price of self-righteousness by fighting for years for the ultimate victory and then losing? No victory in America is made without compromise. That is what democracy is all about. By working together — those who want economic development and those dedicated to land protection — we can make progress toward both goals.

If we don’t have real wilderness, we face economic development where it should not be. In short, we lose the value of the lands we need to protect a chip at a time, and our lands eventually will have no wilderness characteristics at all.

The county-by-county process works. The ill-defined Wild Lands doctrine, no matter how well-intended, was killing the effort.

Ted Wilson is a senior adviser on the environment to Gov. Gary Herbert and chair of the Governor’s Balanced Resource Council.



By I Ling Thompson

America is fortunate to have amazing public lands where it is still possible to go for miles in search of solitutude or to share a weekend of adventure with family and friends.    Utah, more than many states, has this in spades.

Across the country, more people are getting active outside.  In fact, a recent report by The Outdoor Foundation found that nearly half of all Americans participated in at least one outdoor activity in 2010, and the popularity of adventure sports like kayaking, backcountry camping and climbing is on the rise.

The Department of the Interior just released its Economic Contributions report that underscores this trend, showing that more than 21 million people visited Interior-managed recreation sites in Utah in 2010.  And even better, that Utah ranks first in the nation for jobs created by these public lands.

In response to DOI’s report, Utah Governor Herbert stated:  “One of the key reasons Utah is leading the nation out of the recession is the diversity of our economy. Outdoor recreation is one of our seven key economic clusters or areas of focus. This report confirms that the multiple use of our public lands is beneficial in many ways.”

While this admission sounds good on paper, it is a far cry from the reality of Governor Herbert’s approach to public lands policy.  From his recent lawsuit challenging the preservation of public lands for recreation to his decision to sign a bill shutting down access to streams for sportsmen and paddlers, Gov. Herbert has made it clear that the outdoor industry is not on equal footing with other industries that rely on public lands.

Our public lands – places where people can hike, view wildlife, camp, bike, fish and hunt – are the engine behind a $289 billion industry that supports 6.5 million jobs nationally.  Think about it…by the time a family drives through a park entrance, they have bought shoes and packs to use while they hike, and gear to camp in the great outdoors.  They’ve stopped in restaurants and bought souvenirs and snacks in rural stores along their route.  At the other end of the spectrum, Outdoor Retailer, the largest outdoor products trade show in the world that is held in Salt Lake City twice a year, generates $40 million for the state each year.

Utah has the potential to be a national leader on outdoor recreation.  However, policies affecting public lands must be balanced.  Like all Americans, the outdoor industry is concerned about the future of our nation.  It is our hope that Utah’s leadership finally takes genuine, positive measures that recognizes the value of recreation on our public lands for the betterment of Utah and our nation.

I Ling Thompson is the Vice President of Communications for the Outdoor Industry Association.


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