On June 4, the Outdoor Industry Association, represented by President Frank Hugelmeyer, as well as Peter Metcalf, CEO of Black Diamond, and other industry representatives, met with Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt for three hours, to discuss ways that Leavitt can work with the industry to preserve wilderness and outdoor recreation areas.
Following the historic morning meeting, which has garnered press coverage nationwide, Hugelmeyer and Metcalf held a press conference where Hugelmeyer read the following statement summarizing OIA's position and the results of the meeting:
"We are grateful to the citizens of Utah and Salt Lake City who have opened up their wonderful community to our industry and host a world class trade event. We believe that Salt Lake City offers a great venue for our companies to conduct business. You support us with great conference facilities, extend wonderful hospitality and offer outdoor companies one of the world's most spectacular natural backdrops in which to play outdoors.
Outdoor Industry Association is a pro-access trade group. However, we understand the need to offer the American public the full spectrum of recreational activities and experiences. We believe all customers should have abundant and affordable access to their public lands. We also believe all customers should have available a wide range of quality experiences on their public lands, including the wilderness experience, to pursue camping, climbing, backpacking, hiking, fishing, bird watching, canyoneering and many other activities.
The reason we are here today is that the outdoor industry has serious concerns with the state of Utah's recent settlement with the Department of the Interior that left nearly 6 million acres of high quality recreation areas unprotected. The Governor's actions have established regional and national policy and will affect recreation destinations and Americans all over the West. It was this settlement that led to a debate within our membership of whether or not the state of Utah is committed or serious about protecting the precious core of the outdoor wilderness experience. It was this settlement that caused our membership to question whether we were spending our money in a place that respects and understands the outdoor recreation economy and needs.
We are grateful to Governor Leavitt for spending the time this morning to hear our concerns and explore common ground. We feel that the Governor's public call to protect wilderness is a significant gesture to our industry and our customers and it is appreciated. However, our primary goal remains, which is for us to find a way to protect the numerous recreation areas still exposed by the settlement with the Department of Interior. We are encouraged by the beginnings of our dialog and hopeful that a working relationship with the Governor will achieve these goals and others in the future. Today was a good first step.
Recreation and recreation tourism is one of the biggest economic drivers across the West, especially in Utah. OIA believes that a model outdoor recreation economy places a premium on serving the 149 million Americans who are active in outdoor recreation and preserves open and wild places around communities to ensure quality of life. Abundant outdoor recreation helps sustain and diversify local economies and helps communities attract other industries and jobs. It encourages an active healthy lifestyle that helps confront the national obesity crisis head-on, reducing the looming cost of health care. For these reasons, OIA feels that policy makers must make outdoor recreation a priority when making public lands decisions.
It is our hope that discussions started today between Outdoor Industry Association and the Governor will make Utah the envy of every state in the nation regarding how it handles its public lands policy and grows its outdoor recreation economy."
Hugelmeyer told SNEWS that while the talks with Gov. Leavitt were promising, he has to show real action in the next few months or the debate about moving the show will really heat up.
"At this stage, we have given him (Gov. Leavitt) some time between now and Outdoor Retailer in August to show that he is serious," Hugelmeyer said. "If we do not see significant movement toward addressing our concerns by the trade show, there will be a very loud, public debate regarding where we should be spending our money."
Of course finding a state with views that are different than Leavitt's may not be as easy as imagined. Thanks to Gov. Leavitt's backdoor deal with Secretary Gale Norton, other states are eyeing the RS-2477 roads federal designation with glee.
The latest to line up is Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, who has stepped in with a letter to Secretary Norton to argue that RS-2477 allows the state to claim historic road right-of-ways through parks, wildlife refuges and areas that are now protected in Colorado as if they were wilderness. Gaining road designation for historic routes through these areas would eliminate them from ever being considered for permanent wilderness designation.
"We (the OIA) are very concerned with the trend right now and the apparent fact that outdoor recreation appears to be very much a second-class citizen when public-lands policy decisions are being made," Hugelmeyer told SNEWS.
OIA has begun to lobby Gov. Owens regarding his stance on the road's issue, but has yet to take an official position regarding Colorado. What is clear, however, is that OIA is not just focusing on Leavitt, though Utah is where the association is currently being the most aggressive in its political posturing.
"The damage that Leavitt did with his deal has set a national precedent that now forces us into a 50-front war, rather than a single-front war," Hugelmeyer said.
Hugelmeyer told SNEWS that by August, the OIA wants to be able to come back to the members of this industry with a clear statement of "here is what we delivered."
And, now the OIA board has some very important decisions to make, the most important being does the association take this issue to a national level.
SNEWS View: While Colorado's record regarding wilderness and support of outdoor recreation is certainly better than that of Utah's in recent years, Gov. Owens' recent move to press state claims to old rights-of-way across public lands makes us wonder if we should remove Colorado from the list of states we would consider taking the industry trade show to should it become desirable to leave Utah. Clearly, Gov. Leavitt is saying all the right things and there is real potential for compromise and that is a good thing. Salt Lake City has been a good hostess for the trade show to be sure, and it continues to improve in terms of service and convention performance. What is most disconcerting is that it appears as if it is the Bush administration's intention to begin using "friendly" governors to exact a more open public land use policy that eliminates protections that would limit roads and with them the associated logging, drilling and mining uses. Now has never been a more important time to become an OIA member. It is clear that economic clout holds far more negotiating weight than environmental rhetoric and legal dancing.