With summer now in full swing and national Great Outdoors Month drawing attention to our shared public lands, millions of families will flock to the West to recreate, rejuvenate and share in wild adventures. These same lands will also provide us with home-grown clean energy that powers our homes and businesses.
How we manage those lands will be a big topic of conversation during the Western Governors Association gathering in Park City this weekend. Together we will look to find solutions to the shared concerns of local communities and the federal government.
Western governors have a big role to play in helping federal agencies better manage lands in Utah and across the west. These leaders recognize that outdoor recreation and other amenities have emerged as top economic engines for western states; often people cite proximity to open space and protected public lands as a reason for relocating to the region.
The recreation and amenity economy can sustain communities for generations. This is quite unlike the boom-and-bust economies seen by those communities that have bet everything on energy development with the absence of conservation.
The fact is that we don't have to choose between conservation and energy development. We can have both.
Our work through the West shows that there is strong local backing for protecting special places. During the last decade we've seen great support for balancing energy development with conservation by guiding projects to appropriate places.
For example, here in Utah we have seen this cooperative spirit play out through negotiations with political leaders, the oil and gas industry and conservationists around leasing in the West Tavaputs Plateau. Those negotiations led to important protections for that area, centered on a plan that helped put conservation on equal ground with oil and gas leasing.
Polling shows that a strong majority agree that the federal government should place a greater emphasis on conserving and protecting public lands. More than 75 percent of Western voters agree that we can protect land and water while maintaining our economic strength. Finding solutions and identifying lands for protection and development is a shared responsibility among locals, our neighboring states and our representatives in Washington.
To succeed, everyone needs to do their part. The Interior Department and state leaders can work together to identify solutions and forge new partnerships that put conservation on equal ground with development while at the same time providing certainty for developers.
The last Congress was the first since World War II that failed to permanently protect a single new acre of land, yet over the past six years more than 6 million acres of public lands have been leased for oil and gas development. The public expects a balanced approach and good solutions from our leaders. Congress must step up.
As we work with states to find a way to move Washington, D.C., to do more, we can bring long-term prosperity back to rural western communities. Future generations are counting on us to ensure that we have places to hike and bike, hunt and fish, and seek quiet solitude in the years to come.
A healthy dialogue and a bipartisan spirit at the Western Governors meeting can help us carve a path for our public lands that meets the needs of us all.
Jamie Williams is the president of The Wilderness Society.