As the Associated Press reports, the outdoor recreation industry is once again challenging the State of Utah’s attempts to seize control of more than 30 million acres of federal public land. In 2003, the industry and state fought a similar battle over public land rights-of-way, but then-Governor Michael Leavitt backed down.
Now, Utah Governor Herbert is trying to assuage industry representatives that his motives are not nefarious, noting the legislation he signed into law earlier this year and a lawsuit the state recently filed over 12,000 backcountry routes and roads would leave Utah’s five national parks, several of its national monuments and 33 wilderness areas under federal ownership. Once again, the industry is not backing down.
“Of greatest concern is the governor’s lawsuit challenging the federal government over jurisdiction of the federal public lands and some road claims within national parks, monuments and wilderness areas. We have not and will not sit silently on threats to the nation’s recreation infrastructure….Beyond setting bad national precedent, these policies threaten the recreation infrastructure that is fundamental to the outdoor industry, good economic policy cannot be divorced from bad public lands policy.”
A similar battle is playing out in Colorado over speculative oil shale development. In advertisements signed by more than 100 Coloradans concerned about the fate of their public lands, the Colorado Wildlife Federation (CWF) thanked Interior Secretary Salazar for “standing up for our water and wildlife.” As Suzanne O’Neill, CWF’s executive director, noted, “Our water and wildlife and the outdoor jobs that they support are just too valuable to gamble away on oil shale speculation by premature commercial leasing that will tie up more federal public lands in Colorado without public benefit.”
In both cases, the outdoor industry’s leverage point is its economic clout. According to the Associated Press, the outdoor industry’s biannual trade show “injects more than $40 million yearly” into Utah’s economy, and “the outdoor industry and related services represent a sizable chunk of Utah’s income—roughly $4 billion a year, or 5 percent of the state’s gross product.” Colorado’s recreation industry sees similar benefits.
Unlike the battles in the 1980′s over ownership and use of federal public land (the Sagebrush Rebellion), those now working to protect our public lands for their inherent environmental value now have economic clout behind them. It’s a significant and welcome change.