Roundtable asks: Are we loving the outdoors to death?

Are we loving the outdoors to death? The answer to this question seems to be, yes, according to attendees of the sixth media roundtable, hosted by W.L. Gore on Feb. 1 during Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Salt Lake City.
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Are we loving the outdoors to death? The answer to this question seems to be, yes, according to attendees of the sixth media roundtable, hosted by W.L. Gore on Feb. 1 during Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Salt Lake City.

About 30 people were on hand, including representatives from W.L. Gore, journalists and eight panelists whose professions concern the stewardship of public lands. Gore first presented stats to illustrate the pressure being put on wild lands -- 69 percent of Americans 16 and older explore the outdoors, and park visits reached 300 million in 1999.

The panelists then spoke, each giving his or her take on how the growing numbers of recreationists are affecting natural areas, and what we might do to address problems.

Panelist Scott Tucker, president of Montrail, emphasized that while the outdoor industry is promoting participation, it's not putting out messages to promote conservation. "We can't just pool our resources to protect the environment, we should take a leadership role to drive education of the general public," Tucker said.

Other panelists agreed that educating consumers is key. "Our vision is to attract young people and get them interested [in the outdoors]. We want to train our staff to train [young people] proper stewardship," said Randy Bush, store director for the Salt Lake City Galyan's. "We're hopeful, because we think young people these days have an increased respect."

Dana Watts, executive director of Leave No Trace, summed it up well, noting that proper treatment of wild areas "is an individual decision. It's about values."

While the roundtable began with talk of education and values, it soon switched to matters of land management and became more of a discussion on policy and funding.

"For years the Forest Service didn't manage recreation, and now this is going to be a challenge," said Loren Kroenke, a district ranger for the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. He said the Forest Service has $32 million to cover 34 million acres, and "less than 50 cents an acre is making it to the ground."

Panelist Kate Kitchell noted that resources are also stretched thin with the Bureau of Land Management. "We manage 72 million acres of land and have 10,000 employees. Meanwhile, BLM lands have seen a 10 percent increase in visits."

She added that the BLM relies on partnerships, and encouraged outdoor companies to be more involved in land protection, adopting certain wild areas and investing in rehabilitation projects. She said companies should use marketing to educate the public and "make it cool to care."

Backpacker Magazine Executive Director Jonathan Dorn then sparked a discussion on whether we'd see more corporate sponsorships and privatization of natural areas -- Yosemite National Park brought to you by Ford Motor Co. Here the talk started to get juicy, but the allotted time for the discussion ran out just before 9 a.m.

SNEWS View: Roundtable discussions are tough, especially when they begin before 8 a.m. The panelists must take time for their remarks, then, by the time everyone else wakes up and gets geared-up to chime in, time runs out. The things always seem to be over before they start. Still, this roundtable was valuable -- this is an important topic, the panelists were articulate, and those who attended picked up some revealing and startling information. Are we loving the outdoors to death? There's plenty of evidence that suggests we are. How do we solve the problem? We'd need about10,000 words here to even get into it. But the point of this roundtable was not to find answers, it was to provoke thought. As far as SNEWS is concerned, if you can provoke thought before 9 a.m., you've accomplished something.

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