Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, likely bound to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the next six weeks, spent half a day with the outdoor industry on Thursday, first walking the Outdoor Retailer trade show floor (for the first time) and then in an invitation-only meeting with the OIA board in front of media and other guests.
During the hour and a half meeting with the board (media were prohibited from asking questions even though it was Leavitt's team who wanted the meeting opened to them), Leavitt offered assurances that he was keenly interested in wilderness protection and that he wanted to grow a significant recreational economy in Utah.
Leavitt assured the industry that Utah was not interested in turning every pioneer or wildlife trail into a road under RS2477 and that the state was only interested in "well-defined roads that you can drive a car or truck down currently."
The governor also stated that his administration has attempted to solve wilderness issues a half-dozen times over the last 12 years, and he is looking to the outdoor industry as a potential strong economic partner to help him protect lands that "deserve to be protected."
OIA President Frank Hugelmeyer, and other OIA board members, voiced a feeling of "cautious optimism" following the meeting.
However, if the industry is to support a continuation of outdoor industry trade show dollars flowing into the state of Utah each year, it expects the following:
- Interim and long-term protection of the wilderness qualities in the areas left exposed by the legal settlement (between the state of Utah and the Department of the Interior) because they are important to our $18 billion industry.
- Fair, open and inclusive processes for public land management decisions including creation of wilderness proposals.
- Recognition and promotion of the value of public lands, wild places and outdoor recreation in the Utah economy.
The OIA further recommended that in recognition of Leavitt's stated desires to protect wild lands and recreation areas in Utah, and to work with the industry to build a recreation-based economy, Outdoor Retailer trade show organizers sign an agreement with Salt Lake City to host the winter 2005 show to, "see if the progress we thought we heard is real and tangible."
SNEWS View: OIA is in the game on a national stage now, and the board has played its cards very well despite the clear attempt of Gov. Leavitt to turn the table in his favor. The media and cameras were invited into the sit-down meeting with Leavitt at his request, not OIA's, but he controlled the stage by denying media the right to ask questions. Leavitt tried to work the room, but in many cases, the only workings going on were raised eyebrows. Leavitt said the right things, but there is little ammunition in his box since he's likely not the governor in six weeks. His successor is the one who must carry the torch, but where she stands is not clear, and insiders believe she's not likely to run for election.
SNEWS will be watching very closely. Outdoor Retailer needs to remain as firmly aligned with the industry as it is now and not make any decisions about a show location or dates without the clear and very public approval of the OIA and the industry at large. If there were any doubts the industry was not behind OIA, they were erased at the show -- 34 new members signed up in less than four days, a new record, and more to join in the coming weeks we're sure.
Utah's leadership now has an opportunity to demonstrate that Leavitt's assurances to the industry were not empty promises, and that the state's pristine recreational areas, especially wilderness best suited for climbing, hiking, backpacking, camping and fishing, can and will be preserved with the state leading the way.
Utah also has the opportunity to do nothing and stumble.
Naturally, Salt Lake City wonders where "we could possibly find another city that offers state-of-the-art convention facilities and urban nightlife literally within minutes of the rivers, canyons, mountains and deserts that make the outdoor retail industry possible and profitable?"
Try Reno, gang. We've been there before, could go there again, and they want us badly. They're even building a whitewater park right in the downtown, funded by casinos. Is Reno perfect? No. But neither is SLC. Don't get us wrong. SLC has been a wonderful hostess and learned much in the process -- heck, we even helped train it for the Olympics lest it forget.
One hand has been shown and the chips are piling up. It remains to be seen what Utah will now do as the game of political and economic poker plays out. Bottom line is OIA holds the trump card still -- Do something or we recommend moving the show and we would expect Outdoor Retailer to follow through on whatever the industry recommends. And that's a $24 million gamble Utah can ill afford to make.