Where Big Business Meets the BLM

Outdoor retailers are getting together in Salt Lake City this week (January 22-25). The business event happens twice a year (there's also a summer show) to look at new outdoor gear, find new products for their stores, and generally look to see where the outdoor recreation industry is going in the next year. It may have been a small affair once, but it isn't now.

There aren't enough hotel rooms near The Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake to house everyone. A nice orientation map with detailed information details where participants can stay at outlying hotels and the transportation services available to get them to the show. I mention all of this to underscore a point that has been made frequently. Outdoor recreation on public lands is big business.

Public lands, most of it federally managed lands in national parks, national forests and Bureau of Land Management landscapes generate millions of dollars a year. Some of that revenue comes from outdoor recreation gear sales, including all that outdoor fashion wear. But it also includes revenue from meals, groceries, motel rooms, souvenirs, stuffed bears and bats, Native American jewelry, gas and diesel, and of course beer and glasses of pinot.

Federally managed lands used for outdoor recreation also generate jobs. A lot of the revenue and jobs directly support small towns and communities serving as gateways to recreation areas.

When conventions like the outdoor retailers are included the benefits of our recreation lands extends to urban areas like Salt Lake City. It's not just a revenue stream, but more like a vast circulatory system sustaining the healthy lifestyles of Americans across the country.

This industry and the healthy activities it encourages are worth preserving, protecting and even encouraging through new investments. Of course it's sustainable...that is, it really never runs out or gets used up, unless we convert those landscapes to some other use, like oil and gas development which generally is not so attractive a place to hike around or camp in and once the wells run dry, the business, economic activity, and jobs are gone.

One of the ways to protect America's public lands for recreation is through an important tool recently developed by a BLM team. The concept of a master leasing plan was developed as a means to insure both the thoughtful and balanced extraction of oil and gas reserves on public lands, but also as a tool to protect landscapes important for recreation and wildlife, often in national parks, that could be negatively impacted from ill planned development on neighboring federal lands, principally BLM lands.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has gone on record as supporting master leasing plans as a means to insure both oil and gas extraction on federal lands but also the preservation of important landscape values on both BLM properties as well as national parks.

National Parks and Conservation Association has just published a new report on master leasing plans. This report calls for a common sense and smart planning process to both protect national parks and allow for oil and gas development on public lands. The report recognizes the efforts of some BLM offices, notably in Utah, and asks other offices, notably in Colorado, to make the effort to do what is right for the land and for all users...hikers as well as drillers. It would be encouraging if the BLM embraced its own management tools and took a broader view of how master leasing plans could be used to balance the uses in this multiple use agency.

It would also be encouraging to see more commitment from the National Park Service to engage the BLM in this issue. Secretary Jewell has endorsed the use of master leasing plans, rightfully noting that this isn't a choice of recreation vs oil and gas. Both agencies only need to seemingly step over the line and work together to insure that they continue to serve their multiple constituencies and the resources they have committed to protect. It's time for the National Park Service to recognize the opportunity and walk through the door that the BLM has opened.