During a meeting with the Outdoor Industry Association in August, Gov. Gary Herbert was asked if his state had a vision plan for outdoor recreation.
His response, as the governor's environmental adviser recalls, was something like "I'm not sure we do, but it sounds like a pretty good idea."
Spurred by that question, and wanting an answer that could help Utah keep OIA's winter and summer trade shows, which pour an estimated $40 million into the state economy Herbert has moved to create the Outdoor Recreation Vision plan. The governor has the plan on a fast track for completion before the group holds its 2013 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market convention in Salt Lake City on Jan. 22-26.
The OIA has tangled with Utah leaders over land-use policy, citing that as one reason it's weighing moving its trade shows out of state.
Utah's conservative political leaders see public lands development as a means to fire up the economy with the private sector's help. And, while Herbert has formed a "Balanced Resources Council" to guide him, he also has backed Sagebrush Rebellion-style legislation intended to press for a state takeover of millions of acres of federal lands.
In contrast, the recreation industry sees public lands as a rich opportunity for customers to enjoy the outdoors, especially the kind of wildland experiences offered by Utah's mountains and redrock canyons. Industry leaders bristled this summer after one of their own, Black Diamond founder Peter Metcalf, was reprimanded by the governor for denouncing the state Legislature's pro-development "attack" on public lands. Metcalf was invited by Herbert to quit his Balanced Resources Council if he couldn't work in the "spirit of collaboration," and later resigned.
Herbert's vision-plan committee met Wednesday at the state Capitol to review input from the governor's Balanced Resources Council on a vision plan and guiding principles outlined in the first meeting last month.
Alan Matheson, the governor's senior environmental adviser, said Wednesday the group is making "good strides and participating enthusiastically and constructively."
"We have put together a diverse group of folks dedicated to outdoors recreation in many different ways," Matheson said. "We looked around and we are not aware of any other state that has an outdoor plan. The governor recognizes the important value of outdoor recreation and is serious about this."
But recognizing that value and translating it into action by Utah policy-makers and legislators are two different things.
"If the governor puts his weight behind this and it becomes a policy document, this will be groundbreaking for outdoor recreation in Utah," said George Sommer, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Fisheries Advisory Council, who is serving as the voice of anglers on the advisory group. "If it is indeed a policy document, then it is on par with the energy plan and that gives us recognition of the value we are putting into Utah's economy."
Members of the Outdoor Industry Association started Wednesday's meeting by commending the Utah governor for "initiating a process to define a recreation vision for the state."
The group also provided input on "Outdoor Industry Guiding Principles" and listed "opportunities to promote outdoor recreation-related policy and programs" based on four categories: Investment; Federal Advocacy; Policy Reform and Land Protection.
"To effectively execute a recreation vision, Utah policy makers must commit to providing the opportunities and experiences and protecting the lands and waters upon which recreation and the outdoor economy depend," read the draft provided to the committee.
"Just as the state has a 10-year energy plan, long-range vision and planning around outdoor recreation must be given equal weight in Utah policy circles, land and water funding, planning and management. Such a commitment does not preclude necessary resource development and extraction, but fosters a balanced economy and balanced resource management predicated on a 21st-century understanding of jobs and economic activity related to recreation, resource extraction and agriculture/ranching."
OIA suggests investments in trails, open space, state parks, exploring corporate donors and creating an Outdoor Recreation Incentive fund to attract outdoor companies to Utah.
Under policy reform, the OIA:
• Called for a stay on RS2477 lawsuits, referring to a legal tug-of-war between federal and local governments over access to countless unpaved roads across the country.
• Suggested a full cost/benefit analysis of HB148, in which Utah asks the federal government to give back some 20 million acres of public land, and a proposed sales tax earmark for water development.
• Implored the state to develop water conservation measures.
• Promoted a "specific and rational" policy on stream access.
• Urged Utah to push the Western Governors' Association on policy resolutions promoting outdoor recreation, recreation economies and federal funding for public lands and recreation management in the West.
As for land protections, the OIA suggested protecting and promoting federal lands and waters (including wilderness quality lands, Forest Service Roadless Areas, Greater Canyonlands and a public stakeholder process in the SkiLink proposal).
Matheson said many of the points brought forward by OIA are "already being addressed."
Groups invited to participate in the process include Utah outdoor industries, members of the hunting and fishing communities, representatives of state agencies in the Department of Natural Resources and the Utah Office of Tourism, state legislators, wildlife-watching groups, off-road vehicle interests and the ski industry.
"Utah can be distinguished from other states in outdoor recreation opportunities in many ways. There are the benefits to the economy, to a quality of life to our heritage and to health benefits," Matheson said.
"Part of this is helping us all understand why outdoor recreation is valuable and what contributions it brings to the state."
Jim Holland, co-founder of Utah-based backcountry.com, isn't quite sure what will happen with the vision, but he is hopeful it will serve as guidance for those making decisions that can impact places that make Utah so special.
"It's hard to say what will come of this effort, and to be honest, I don't fully understand who will ultimately read the document that will be produced here but I really hope that it will have a positive impact," said Holland, who was invited to be a part of the committee. "I hope that Utahns, our legislators and our governor will come to see the direct connection between our economic vitality and the unbelievable recreational opportunities that we have here in our mountains, our canyons, our deserts and our wilderness areas.
"This is what drew me to this area and this is why my business partner and I chose to start backcountry.com here. We employ close to 1,000 people who all make Utah their home for these very same reasons. I hope we will all come to really value and protect these amazing places we play because it really is tied to our economic well-being."