This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
As Moab business owners, we appreciated the editorial by the Salt Lake Tribune ("Moab leasing plan represents a realistic compromise," Nov. 24) regarding the Moab Master Leasing Plan as a "small victory for middle grounders in the entrenched war over Utah's public lands."
But the path to get it this far reflects a locally driven negotiation that is often missing in sound-bite-driven political debates.
Gov. Gary Herbert made a smart bet calling for more investment in tourism and recreation with hopes of increasing tax revenue from tourism and recreation to $1.2 billion by 2020 – up from the $1 billion that the industry already generates today.
Utah is blessed with riches when it comes to our public lands, which have proven to be a powerhouse for our economy. That's why it's so important we make sound investments in our public lands.
The West isn't flyover country. In fact, our public lands are the No. 1 destination spot. Both Utahns and travelers from around the world come to our state to enjoy the "Mighty 5" national parks such as Arches and Canyonlands or lesser-known yet beloved places such as the Book Cliffs for hunting or the Porcupine Rim Trail near Moab for mountain biking.
Recreation alone generates $12 billion in direct economic activity, provides for $3.6 billion in wages and salary, and directly employs 122,000 people. Simply put, tourism and recreation is big business for Utah. It is no wonder that the Outdoor Industry Association sets up shop in Salt Lake City for their biannual trade show.
Investments in tourism and recreation help diversify and strengthen our state and local economies. On the other hand, industries that depend on commodity prices can be a tough business, given the whim of international markets.
Tourism and recreation have proven to be very resilient and held strong even during the Great Recession. Local communities making investments in tourism and recreation helps to diversify and strengthen their local economies.
Protecting tourism and recreation opportunities can be win-win, and there is no better example than what the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is doing to strike a sensible balance between conservation and development on public lands in the Moab area.
The BLM has just wrapped-up its public comment period for Utah's first-ever Master Leasing Plan. The BLM deserves high praise for its work around Moab.
The draft plan seeks to strike the right balance between recreation and tourism opportunities, potash mining and oil and gas drilling on approximately 785,000 acres of public lands just outside Arches and Canyonlands in the Moab area.
The BLM has developed a framework for determining which areas are appropriate for responsible exploration and development of resources, while protecting the area's conservation resources. By looking across the landscape approach to minimize conflicts, we can stop problems before they start, protect the beauty of our great outdoors, and facilitate responsible energy development and mining.
As local business owners, we have a unique perspective of why a balanced approach on our public lands is critical for the health of Utah's economy. Getting this right would be a big victory for Moab, where travel and tourism accounts for 47 percent of private employment in the county.
To ensure that Moab continues to have a thriving recreation industry, we have to preserve recreation opportunities on public lands and provide certainty for businesses like ours. This means making sure that oil and gas development and potash mining happen in the right places and the right way to avoid conflicts before they start.
No wonder so many have come out in support of taking a balanced approach including the Outdoor Industry Association, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, Outdoor Alliance, more than 75 Moab area businesses, the city of Moab, Grand County, conservation groups and others.
This is a clear sign the BLM is on the right track. The only voice missing in that chorus of overwhelming support is Gov. Herbert. He's talked the talk on recreation. The Moab plan is a chance to walk the walk, support balance, and invest in the long-term health of Moab's recreation economy.
Brian Merrill is CEO of Western River Expeditions/Moab Adventure Center. Kirstin Peterson is president of Rim Mountain Bike Tours.