The active outdoor recreation industry contributes some $4 billion and 65,000 jobs to the Utah economy each year. This economic impact supports many families, generates millions in tax revenues to support Utah schools, and helps put Utah on the map as an international travel destination.
As a state, we can continue to grow this sector of our economy and reap the benefits of a clean, sustainable outdoor recreation industry. But we will certainly be shortsighted if we don't acknowledge that one of the main reasons outdoor companies locate here, and international tourists visit Utah, is because of our pristine landscapes and protected public lands.
Last week, 27 Utah-based outdoor-industry businesses joined my company, Petzl America, in calling on our congressional delegation to adopt a balanced, rational approach to protecting Utah's unique and scenic landscapes. We want our Senators and Representatives to understand preserving these lands is critical to our bottom lines, and the jobs our companies create.
We wrote a thoughtful letter to Utah's delegation asking them to reconsider several dangerous policies currently being considered by Congress. We have not heard a reply from any of the delegation, other than the statements of my Representative, Rob Bishop, in the Standard Examiner. Based on these comments, we can only conclude he is not interested in opening a dialogue with an important business group that provides jobs to many of his constituents. His continued assertion that protecting public lands hurts the economy just doesn't hold water.
Tourists from around the world don't travel to Utah, and spend thousands of dollars here, to see oil fields and coal mines. They come for our undisturbed, iconic landscapes, which will continue to provide economic value to our state long after the last drop of oil has been pumped from underground.
This is not to say there isn't a place for oil and gas development and ATV trails. According to the Utah State Parks OHV program, there are over 50,000 miles of OHV trails across public lands in the state. That's a lifetime of beautiful riding for tourists and Utah residents alike. Likewise, there are already five million acres in Utah being leased by oil and gas companies, yet only one million have been developed for production. Thousands of leases issued to oil companies for drilling sit idle.
If it's a balanced approach to public lands we're looking for, the scale needs to swing toward protecting the valuable, pristine landscapes we have left. Not every acre of public land needs wilderness protection. But certainly some of it does. Why can't our delegation engage in a thoughtful, collaborative discussion of these issues, rather than support "all or nothing" policies at the federal level?
Here are three examples of policies currently before Congress, which, if implemented, would have a significant negative impact on Utah's outdoor recreation and tourism industries.
Mr. Bishop supports H.R. 1581, which, in one fell swoop, would remove wilderness study and roadless protections from 5.1 million acres of land in Utah. This extreme proposal ignores the exhaustive efforts of the BLM to inventory these lands over the last 30 years, and the current and future economic benefits of having some of these lands protected for future generations.
Likewise, Reps. Bishop and Chaffetz and Sen. Hatch have supported massive budget cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has helped provide recreational opportunities throughout Utah, including Antelope Island, Bear Lake State Park, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Soldier Hollow, Sand Hollow and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. These projects translate into a growing market for the active outdoor recreation industry, as well as affordable, close to home recreation. Assertions that we simply cannot afford the LWCF because of the deficit are inaccurate. The LWCF is funded by offshore oil and gas drilling royalties, not taxpayer dollars.
And finally, think about all the economic benefits our state gets from Zion, Bryce, Arches and Capitol Reef national parks; and Natural Bridges, Dinosaur, Hovenweep, Rainbow Bridge, Cedar Breaks, Timpanogos Cave, and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. All these treasured natural wonders (now major economic tourism engines) got their start through Antiquities Act proclamations by 12 Presidents -- six Republicans and six Democrats. Yet our senators and representatives have supported proposals to restrict the use of the Antiquities Act to protect what is already federal land in Utah.
It's time for Representative Bishop, and the rest of our delegation, to realize Utah has a strong economic interest in protecting, preserving, and enhancing our public lands. The concept that protective designations lock us out of public lands is patently false. To say we are locked out of protected public land is like saying we're locked out of a shopping mall because we can't drive a bulldozer through it.
Solutions are rarely found at the extremes. If we put partisan politics aside and look at the real facts about what drives our economy, we can work together for balanced management of our public lands that strengthens Utah's economy, provides abundant recreational opportunities for its residents and visitors, and preserves and protects Utah's iconic wildlands for future generations.
Mr. Rasmussen is a Utah native now residing in the Ogden Valley, and has been an avid outdoorsman for over 50 years. He is the president of Petzl America, the North American headquarters of Petzl, manufacturer of headlamps, climbing, caving and industrial rope access equipment, located in Clearfield.