Facebook Twitter

Outdoor retailers take their case to Leavitt

They want him to recognize financial impact of recreation

SHARE Outdoor retailers take their case to Leavitt

Utah's outdoor recreation industry is telling Gov. Mike Leavitt to put his mouth where the money is.

In a closed-door meeting today with Leavitt, officials with the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) will formally request that Leavitt acknowledge the financial impact of outdoor recreation on Utah's economy. Outdoor retailers also want Leavitt to pledge his support for sensible wilderness protections in Utah and put into action his environmental problem-solving program called Enlibra.

"We are encouraged by the governor's willingness to sit down with us and develop a working plan for protecting Utah's wild treasures," said Frank Hugelmeyer, OIA president. "This is his chance to prove his commitment to stewardship of Utah's valuable wildlands."

Leavitt is looking forward to working with the outdoor retail community, said Natalie Gochnour, Leavitt's spokeswoman.

"He sees this as a partnership," she said.

Today's meeting is the result of an outcry over Leavitt's surprise deal with the Bush administration to cut back on wilderness protection in Utah.

On April 11, Leavitt and Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced a settlement agreement that removes wilderness protections on nearly 6 million acres in Utah. Norton agreed to remove interim protections now afforded to those potential wilderness areas identified after 1991 on Bureau of Land Management lands. In exchange, the state agreed to drop a lawsuit filed in 1996 against the Interior.

Peter Metcalf, co-founder of Black Diamond Equipment Ltd., was so outraged at the deal he suggested the Outdoor Retailer semiannual trade shows — which he helped to bring to Utah seven years ago — move to another state, leaving a $24 million hole in Utah's economy.

"These are lands that support my business as well as the enormously popular outdoor recreation lifestyle of hundreds of thousands of Utah residents," Metcalf said.

His concerns were shared by other outdoor retailers, including the OIA, the exclusive endorser behind Outdoor Retailers shows. OIA is based in Boulder, Colo.

"Outdoor recreation has been a 'second-class citizen' for policymakers at the national and state levels when decisions are made about public lands policy," Hugelmeyer said. "We believe that recreation's economic impact needs to be recognized and given priority when public lands decisions are being made."

Outdoor recreation generates $18 billion a year across the country and plays a key role in Utah's economy, he added.

"We are optimistic about the meeting," Hugelmeyer said, "and look forward to fleshing out these goals with the governor and his staff."

E-mail: donna@desnews.com