Outdoor industry: We want the state's backing

Aug 25 2011 - 11:55pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Clearfield-based climbing-equipment manufacturer is leading a charge of 27 Utah outdoor and tourism industry companies that want the state's congressional delegation to recognize their significance by supporting funding for key conservation programs.

In an open letter sent Wednesday to Utah's congressional delegation, 27 companies, including the Outdoor Industry Association and internationally known leaders Petzl America, of Clearfield, and Black Diamond, Equipment, of Salt Lake City, asked the state's representatives in the U.S. House and Senate to recognize the significant value of their contribution to Utah's economy.

The companies also asked the congressmen not to support proposals to cut funding of key conservation programs and to continue protections for valuable pristine lands in Utah.

"Our industry brings some $4 billion and 65,000 jobs to the Utah economy each year," Mark "Roody" Rasmussen, president of Petzl America, said in a news release.

"And yet my own representative, Rob Bishop, as well as the rest of our delegation, act as if the policies they are supporting in Washington will have no negative impacts on Utah jobs and the Utah economy," said Rasmussen, who organized the effort to send the letter.

"Recreation is an essential part of Utah's economy, which is why Congressman Bishop continues to diligently fight to ensure that our state and nation's public lands remain accessible to all public land users, including those who use them for recreation," said Melissa Subbotin, Bishop's communications director.

"The current administration remains determined to deny access to our public lands, which would have a devastating impact on local economies that benefit from recreation and tourism revenues," she said.

While the administration would have the public believe access and conservation are mutually exclusive, Subbotin said, "nothing could be further from the truth."

Bishop realizes the challenges outdoor and tourism industries face, and how those challenges would be further compounded if special-interest groups and the current administration succeed in locking up lands.

Bishop serves as chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

Rasmussen said he is pleased with the support he has received from other companies in trying to get the Utah delegation to understand the economic value of the state's wilderness.

"People come to Utah for those iconic wildlands," he said.

The letter mentions proposals before Congress that would hurt Utah's outdoor and tourism industries, including a proposal to massively defund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which have helped preserve key recreation areas in Utah, including the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and Antelope Island.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, established in the 1960s, is helpful in preserving conservation areas, yet Congress continues to defund it, Rasmussen said.

"Close-to-home recreation in this economic time is paramount," he said.

"Funding for these key conservation programs is a crucial long-term investment in the Utah economy," said Peter Metcalf, CEO of Black Diamond Equipment. "These funds are leveraged many times by private donations and return significant benefits for communities and jobs throughout Utah."

Davis County Commissioner Louenda Downs said she does not oppose the effort being made by the delegation of Utah companies, understanding their concern is with protecting jobs.

"In addition, I don't think it is appropriate for the federal government to continue to look at Utah lands as a free-for-all. It's our land. It's the state's land. Utah is doing well. We don't want to harm that. We want to protect that. And we want to protect that with some voice from Utah," Downs said.

But everyone is dealing with the effects of the slow economy, Downs said, and she does not envy elected leaders who are trying to reduce the nation's debt by cutting or reducing funding levels for different programs, which may include programs that help protect key conservation areas.

"There is going to be some programs cut. This is one movement to address some of that," she said.

The delegation of companies is also concerned because Bishop and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, as well as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, have co-sponsored a proposal by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., to eliminate wilderness and roadless protections on 5 million acres of public land in Utah.

"The outdoor industry has been such a shot in the arm for Utah," Rasmussen said. Recreation provides family camping opportunities and helps combat the nation's obesity problem, he said. "We are just looking for balance in the management of our state and federal lands."

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