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Guest Editorial: Economics, Wilderness, the Outdoor Industry, and Our Trade Show

A week ago last Sunday the Salt Lake Tribune published as its lead piece in the OpEd section an editorial I wrote with support from the B4W group of OIA. The piece was an economic rebuttal to Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and the Secretary of Interior Gail Norton's backroom deal to remove Wilderness Study Area protection from some 6 million acres of potential Utah Wilderness.


By Peter Metcalf

A week ago last Sunday the Salt Lake Tribune published as its lead piece in the OpEd section an editorial I wrote with support from the B4W group of OIA. The piece was an economic rebuttal to Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and the Secretary of Interior Gail Norton’s backroom deal to remove Wilderness Study Area protection from some 6 million acres of potential Utah Wilderness. These two felt that neither the United States nor Utah could afford to have these lands off limits to mining, oil and gas development, lumbering, road building and other development. Never did they stop to look at the fact that human-powered recreation is its own economic engine and that our industry brings the two largest and most economically important trade shows to Utah each year. In addition to that, the Wasatch Front range has a higher concentration of climbing equipment/outdoor companies than any other single metropolitan area in the country employing directly and indirectly in the neighborhood of 500 people.

Utah’s wilderness areas belong to all the people of the United States, not just Utah residents, and when the governor of the state that hosts the largest human-powered recreation trade show in the world moves from being passively negative to actively negative against wilderness, he is sending an incredibly offensive message to our industry and our trade show. The greatest leverage we as an industry may have in such matters is the power of the dollar and the marketing power of our presence. We, as an industry, send a strong message about place by the place we choose to meet. Discussions I have had with other Utah-based companies and OIA show a high degree of support for this concept.

I encourage each of you to take a few moments to consider both the issue of the economic value of wilderness and how it effects your business as well as where we, as an industry, hold our show. I believe it is time that we use our show’s location as a means to negotiate for a state’s support for wilderness initiatives and a reasonable degree of philosophical alignment. We don’t have many other tools at our disposal and none as strong as this.

I encourage each of you to give this consideration and email your feelings to both OIA (who can forward it to the governor’s office), as well as Peter Devin at Outdoor Retailer. Similarly, I encourage each of you to find ways to influence any other debates on wilderness and land preservation by giving it an economic perspective. Surely the extractive resource industries have been doing this and it is now time for all of us and our industry to do the same. It appears our economic sledgehammer, though more stealth-like, is actually larger.

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