This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It's becoming more clear that Utah's members of Congress are living in the past. Rep. Rob Bishop, for example, tossed aside a plea last week from a group of economists urging the Obama administration to protect scenic public lands as a smart economic development strategy.
Bishop said that only if there is no possibility that the land could be drilled, mined, logged or grazed should it even be considered for designation as a national monument or as wilderness.
No matter that drilling, mining, logging and grazing are just so 20th century.
The economic future of the West, the sustainable economic future, will be based on tourism and recreation if the beautiful places that attract them are not degraded or destroyed.
More than 100 economists, including three Nobel laureates, agreed on that in a letter to President Barack Obama. While the group recognizes that some areas can be used for both recreation and select commercial uses, they recommended more preservation of "world-class natural amenities."
It's true that for the past century, ranching and fossil fuels and minerals have been the economic drivers in much of the West, including Utah. Coal, oil and natural gas continue to fuel the country for now. But renewable energy is the fuel of the future, and Utah is missing out on that boom by focusing subsidies and development policy on fossil extraction.
Often, drilling and mining preclude recreation. Wilderness, by definition, is a place of solitude, untrammeled by industry, where redrock cliffs, sandstone arches, desert vistas and archaeological remains are protected.
Mining and drilling, even in proximity to protected places, can ruin the pristine air, water and land that draw tourists by the millions who spend a bundle to hike, fish, hunt, take photographs and enjoy the natural treasures that are more permanent than the fossil fuels beneath them.
For example, a recent study by nonprofit Headwaters Economics shows that outdoor recreation in Grand County's spectacular public lands has become the area's economic engine, producing jobs and replacing disappearing mines and ranches. And the jobs are sustainable, bringing lasting economic growth.
The economists lobbying for more parks, wilderness and monuments are reacting to talk in Congress, supported by Utah's delegation, to sell off some public lands. That would be shortsighted for the environment and economy alike.