Middle ground: would state control of federal lands harm the recreation industry?

Author:Sutherland, Spencer
Position:Business Trends

It's been nearly a year since Gov. Gary R. Herbert signed legislation demanding the U.S. government give Utah the deed to millions of acres of federal lands. Though House Bill 148 has received the support of Utah legislators and states' rights advocacy groups, not everyone is pleased with the legislation.

The public lands issue, combined with the governor's vigorous energy-development efforts, has many in the outdoor recreation industry fuming. Peter Metcalf, founder of Utah-based outdoor retailer Black Diamond, has been very vocal in his disapproval for the governor's land policies, which he feels have been detrimental to both the state's natural beauty and its multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation industry. As a result of Metcalf's public remarks, Herbert asked him to resign from the state's Ski and Snowboarding Industry Working Group.

"Despite the governor's claims that he's taking a very balanced approach to his policies and how they affect the public lands," Metcalf says, "all his legislation and actions are about being a champion of uses that are detrimental to outdoor recreation."

The Outdoor Industry Association, which has also expressed concern, recently asked the governor to spell out his vision for Utah's recreational future before considering Salt Lake City as a host for future Outdoor Retailer Markets, events that currently bring tens of millions of revenue dollars into the state each year.

Recognizing the economic impact of the Outdoor Retailer Markets and the state's outdoor industry, the governor was quick to form the Balanced Resource Council, an organization charged to develop a comprehensive outdoor recreation vision plan.

"It's a group of well respected leaders in Utah from all perspectives on environment and lands," says Alan Matheson, Herbert's environmental advisor. "Their job is to work on challenging issues and find practical solutions."

The plan, which was released late January, has been lauded as a balanced approach by both the Outdoor Industry Association and Metcalf

"It is a commendable and appreciated first step. As one who has first worked with him and then challenged him in this regard, I must now thank him. Though concerns persist."

A Long-time Dispute

Disputes about Utah's public lands are anything but new. "This discussion has been going on since the early 1900s. Governors from both parties in Utah have talked to the federal government about getting the lands in state control," says Matheson.


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