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In our opinion: Differences over land management not as cut and dried as some believe

People walk through the Outdoor Retailer show at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28, 2017.
People walk through the Outdoor Retailer show at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28, 2017.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

As the Outdoor Retailers show packed up after its final visit to Salt Lake City, the same trade group leaders who chose to leave Utah in protest over public lands policy found themselves roundly applauding legislation co-sponsored by a Utah congressman to make it easier for people to recreate on federal lands. There’s more than a little irony in this confluence of events, which reveal how the ideological differences over land management are not as cut and dry as some would believe.

Rep. Rob Bishop is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill that would make it easier for outdoor recreationists to cut through red tape when applying to access public lands to ski, climb or run rivers. A representative of the Outdoor Industry Association reacted to news of the bill by saying, “Any good policy that gets more people outside and makes sure the lands can continue to provide recreation…is good for the recreation economy.” The statement did not address the fact that the law carries the name of a congressman lumped into the category of Utah public officials once viewed as averse to promoting the outdoor recreational industry’s values.

The bill, introduced in the Senate by Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, was in the works before the Outdoor Retailers’ decision to discontinue its long relationship with Utah as the host of its two annual trade shows. It is exactly the kind of legislation the outdoors industry lobbies for. The fact that Bishop has signed on as House co-sponsor runs counter to the narrative that Utah officials are united in their desire to elevate extractive industries over recreational and conservationist interests in the management of federal lands.

From the beginning, it was our opinion that members of the trade show organization were unreasonable in their relentless criticism of Utah’s governor, legislature and congressional delegation over lands policy, particularly regarding the squabble over the designation of the Bear’s Ears National Monument. The organization was unwilling to give credence to Utah’s desire to encourage balance in the use of public lands and to ensure the state has more of a say in how those lands are managed. The state’s support of a resolution to reconsider the size and manner of the Bear’s Ears designation gave predisposed critics ammunition to elevate their concerns into a full-blown protest over Utah lands policy, which is more nuanced than critics would admit.

The Recreation Not Red-Tape Act is an example of a bipartisan effort to wipe away unnecessary federal regulations governing access to popular recreation areas under federal jurisdiction. It demonstrates that leaders of both parties are in agreement that lands policy can be improved upon when it comes to furthering the interests of outdoors enthusiasts.

Bishop deserves credit for pushing the measure, which should give pause to those in the outdoor retail world who have chosen to put up fences rather than build coalitions with Utah leaders interested in promoting conservation and recreation on public lands.