Utah officials open talks with outdoor trade group
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — State officials said Wednesday they have opened discussions with an outdoor-recreation trade group that represents companies such as Patagonia and The North Face, after the organization threatened to pull lucrative biannual trade shows from Salt Lake City in a dispute over the fate of public lands.
Gov. Gary Herbert had faced a Wednesday deadline from the Outdoor Industry Association to "share his vision" for preserving outdoor recreation on public lands. But the association, satisfied the Republican governor will deliver, said it moved the deadline to January, when it holds its next Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City.
Leaders of the 4,000-member-strong trade group are upset with Herbert's plans to sue the federal government for control of public lands. The Legislature has authorized lawsuits, with Utah officials looking to open more federal lands to motor vehicles and energy development.
Three of the governor's top aides paid a visit last week to the Boulder, Colo.-based Outdoor Industry Association, marking the start of what both sides are calling an open dialogue.
The discussions covered the "timing and process for the governor to deliver his vision for outdoor recreation in Utah," association spokeswoman Avery Stonich said Wednesday.
The delegation was made up of Herbert's chief of staff, Derek Miller; Spencer Eccles, executive director of his economic development office; and his environmental adviser, Alan Matheson.
"It was a very productive and cordial meeting," Matheson said. "We went to follow up on a commitment to develop an outdoor recreation vision — a statement of how and why outdoor recreation is important to the state."
The Outdoor Industry Association showed its resolve Aug. 1, just before the start of its summer trade show. It gave Herbert an ultimatum: Drop the threat to take over federal lands or risk losing the shows that draw thousands of visitors and inject more than $40 million yearly into the state economy.
At issue is legislation signed by Herbert in March that demands the federal government relinquish control of public lands in Utah by 2014, which sets up a potential legal battle over nearly 4,700 square miles. The Legislature was warned by its own attorneys that the push likely will be found unconstitutional.
It isn't the first time the association has threated to take its business out of Utah, which attracts visitors from around the world for its mountains, canyons, untouched desert wilderness and ancient dwellings.
In 2003, the group threatened to pull its shows unless then-Gov. Mike Leavitt curbed an effort to seize control of dirt paths for vehicles across national parks, national monuments and wilderness areas. Leavitt conceded, and the shows stayed.
The group has had more cordial relationships with previous governors than with Herbert, a staunch supporter of mining, oil and gas development, said Tim Chambless, a University of Utah political science professor.
Herbert has said Utah would not seek to take over national parks, monuments and wilderness areas, reserving its fight for less spectacular federal lands in the state.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, however, said other lawsuits authorized by legislators — for control of dirt roads — target Canyonlands and Capitol Reef national parks, the Dinosaur and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments and the Glen Canyon and Flaming Gorge national recreation areas.
Grand Staircase has been called one of the most remote spots in the Lower 48. It covers more than 3,000 square miles of land with few roads.