As the BLM prepares to allow 15 oil and gas wells in wilderness quality areas near Utah's White River, The Outdoor Industry Association along with locally based industry leader Peter Metcalf voiced their frustration and anger with Governor Mike Leavitt's office.
In a letter to the governor dated Oct. 26, Outdoor Industry Association president Frank Hugelmeyer made it clear the association would not hesitate to recommend to Outdoor Retailer that it move the show out of Utah.
Dear Governor Leavitt:
Your comments at the August meeting of the Outdoor Industry Association Board of Directors encouraged us to make a good faith recommendation to keep the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Utah for another season based on your promise to promote recreation and protect the quality of recreation experiences in Utah. You publicly stated that you welcomed this opportunity to open a dialogue with moderate businesspeople and to begin to protect Utah's recreational treasures.
Unfortunately, two-and-a-half months have gone by and we have nothing to report. We have heard nothing from your office and seen no action on any of the issues you discussed at our meeting. We are immensely disappointed.
We have expressed to you time and time again that our greatest concern has always been the lands that lost protection due to your recent settlement with Secretary Gale Norton. And we have also made it clear that our number one priority is to have the state's involvement in promoting interim protection for these lands -- particularly those areas with wilderness character and high recreational values.
You made a commitment to us that you would use whatever tools the state has to help ensure that nothing happens to unprotected lands while new resource management plans are written. In a recent article in Utah Business, you again reiterated this commitment. Yet, to date, you have taken no action.
As we feared, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is moving forward with oil and gas leases in states such as Utah. These leases affect acres that BLM itself identified as having wilderness qualities. This means that the very lands that we care the most about face the very real threat of oil and gas development.
The outdoor recreation industry has shown patience and good faith throughout this process. But now, with the first of these BLM leases occurring in November, real places are in danger. Our patience has worn thin.
At the start of your confirmation hearing, the outdoor recreation industry made it very clear that we expected you to honor your previous commitment to protect the recreation treasures in your state. Now we fear that your promises are going to turn into unfinished business.
As your confirmation process has moved forward, it appears you have forgotten the 1.3 million Utah residents who participate in outdoor recreation activities each year as well as Utah's outdoor recreation and tourism industries that are crucial to the state's economy. Instead of leaving a legacy of leadership, you will be leaving a legacy of empty promises.
If this were a potential business partnership, we would be reporting to our investors that it appears we have been talking to an unreliable partner and it is time to begin making other plans. As a result, when our board next meets in November, I fully expect that they will pass a resolution urging Outdoor Retailer -- which brings $24 million each year into Salt Lake City -- to aggressively pursue other show locations for the industry to consider.
In the words of an August 16th editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune, you have been given â€œan opportunity to make good on [your] reassurance that large amounts of wilderness, especially those best suited for pure outdoor hiking, camping and fishing experiences, can and will be preserved. [You] also have an equal opportunity to blow itâ€¦â€
Outdoor Industry Association
The governor's spokeswoman Natalie Gochnour was quoted by the Salt Lake Tribune today that Leavitt has been working "behind the scenes" to make good on promises. She also said she expects him to announce initiatives in the next week to identify recreational sweet spots for protection and to register objections to the BLM plan. But, the reality is, the governor will likely not be the governor in the next few days anyway, pending his confirmation as the next head of the EPA.
And that further complicates the negotiations. Gochnour was also quoted as saying, "The one thing we have not done is grandstand in the media about (the situation)." That clearly takes a shot at OIA's very public response to the BLM moves to open up wilderness areas to drilling, and the governor's lack of public response thus far.
According to industry representatives close to the goings-on, Leavitt's office has received numerous phone calls and emails, as well as two letters since the August Outdoor Retailer show, and none of those correspondents has received a response or thank-you-for-writing from the governor's office.
Metcalf pointed out to SNEWS that he does not know what else the industry can do to be the partner Leavitt desires since all the communications go into his office and none come out of the office.
"The one thing today has proven is Leavitt's office responds very well to public debate," Metcalf added.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
SNEWS View: Things are heating up again on the trade show front, and it is looking more and more like Leavitt was simply playing a shell game to buy time until he is confirmed for the EPA position. We find it even more laughable that The Economic Development Corporation of Utah had the audacity to use a slick promotion in September to invite SNEWS LLC â€“ among others most likely -- to consider moving our business to Utah! In addition to the plethora of tax and business reasons enumerated in the pitch, the corporation also claimed "Utahns have a tremendous outdoor lifestyle with skiing, hiking, rock climbing, snowboarding, white-water rafting, camping, canoeing, hunting, snowshoeing, golfing, water skiing, biking and more on 9 million plus acres of land for recreation and outdoor activities." Hmmm, they left out the great potential for mining and drilling on wilderness areas too, but we suppose that's become a sore spot. Most amazing of all is the fact that the same Economic Development team as well as the governor's office had no idea that outdoor businesses actually existed in Utah -- until the OIA and Black Diamond's Peter Metcalf and Petzl's Roody Rasmussen educated them in August. Unbelievable. Moving the show or not has become a game of high-stakes poker. And OIA, it seems, is beating the gov at his own game now, and that's good. If we were betting sorts, we'd lay more than even money the show is gone from Salt Lake by the summer of 2005, and the loss of the show and all the revenue it brings the state will be laid firmly at the feet of one Mike Leavitt. That could become quite a lead weight to slow future political aspirations. Of course, none of that solves the issue of drilling and mining on lands of wilderness quality. That, our dear readers, gets laid at the feet of one President George Bush -- no friend of the environment and an advocate for all things extractive. It appears more likely that only a change of administration will offer any hope of change for Utah.