Gold in the hills
For a Utah recreation vision
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There is money to be made in the wild, unspoiled, undrilled, publicly owned portions of Utah. Lots of money. Money that will be there year after year, for generations to come, without major boom-and-bust cycles, without placing excessive burdens on either the public infrastructure we all pay for or the environment we all need to survive.

That is the message that the Outdoor Industry Association has been trying to get through to Utah's political leaders, Gov. Gary Herbert in particular, for years. There is reason to believe that Herbert may be listening with his creation of a Utah Outdoor Recreation Vision.

Not just plan, vision. It is something that Utah really needs.

And, in the category of "Timing is everything," the committee the governor has assembled to put together the state's vision for an unlimited future of outdoor recreation and tourism is supposed to make its report before the next Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, set for Salt Lake City in late January. But that will be well after next week's election, so that Herbert can continue to energize his right-wing electoral base with such absurd policy goals as the state takeover of millions of acres of federal land.

To bow to the OIA simply because it has a little money to throw around — its twice-yearly trade shows alone pump some $40 million into the state's economy — would be no better than kowtowing to the oil and gas industry because of their economic promises and campaign contributions.

But the outdoor retailers are merely the business end of a large number of people who love Utah the way it mostly is. Lots of publicly owned land, matchless places to hike, fish, hunt, ski, snowboard, commune with Nature, or God, or just with silence.

The widespread — and heavily funded — desire to tear up a large portion of that land for the inherently temporary benefit of oil and gas drilling, mining and other extractive business plans can appear quite attractive for any state that is always looking for more revenue and that has dedicated much of the money it derives from leases to its chronically underfunded public schools.

But, in the long view that state leaders should take, all of that money is here today, gone tomorrow. So are the jobs, the boom towns, the jail cells and the cratered highways that come with such an economic focus.

Any political leader who wants to claim the mantle of "conservative" should not only realize the lasting benefits of what used to be called "conservation," but campaign on it.