This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Utah's governor seems determined to miss the point being made by the outdoor recreation industry, which brings in millions of dollars annually to the state's economy. When Gov. Gary Herbert reported on a meeting he had with officials of the Outdoor Industry Association the other day, he ignored the frustration the OIA has with Utah's public-lands policies. Instead, he focused only on the group's need for more space in which to hold its biannual marketing convention.
The fact is, if the Utah Legislature and Herbert continue to push for state ownership of federal public lands, the Beehive State could lose the big economic boost it gets from the Outdoor Retailer Market. Even worse, those elected officials could jeopardize the billion-dollar outdoor recreation industry in Utah.
Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of OIA, wants to have more of a voice to influence public policy to protect the outdoor treasures that bring so many recreationists to Utah. That seems reasonable, given the positive impact of his group on the state's economy. But, not surprisingly, conservative Republicans are having none of that.
"They're acting like a child who does not get everything they want," said Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City. "We shouldn't ruin Utah or its economy" to bend to what Cox called "blackmail and extortion."
But Republican lawmakers consistently bend over for the extraction industries, despite the economic roller-coaster they bring to areas of the state long plagued by boom-bust cycles; the negative effect on land, water, wildlife habitat and air; and the fact that outdoor recreation, which brings clean jobs and sustainable dollars from tourism, is more important to the state's future.
Giving fossil-fuel energy developers what they want is never referred to as responding to blackmail.
To appease energy developers, miners and all-terrain-vehicle users, legislators passed a law threatening to sue the federal government if it refuses to turn over millions of acres of public lands to the state. That rightly rankles the outdoor industry, since Utah would not be able to maintain those lands for public access and would probably sell them to the highest bidders.
The OIA has an interest in state protection for Utah's deserts, redrock canyons, rivers, mountains and forests. That should also be a priority for Utah leaders, who would benefit from input from recreationists just as they cater to developers. Recreation is economic development at its best, and the governor and legislators would be remiss not to encourage it.