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Public Lands

Monumental task: Outdoor industry coalition seeks expansion of Canyonlands by 2 million acres

Conservationists were busy at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market drumming up support to further protect the BLM land around Canyonlands National Park.

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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Summer Market recap is brought to you by Cordura:

At Outdoor Retailer’s Conservation Alliance breakfast, speaker Aron Ralston described the resolve that helped him survive in Blue John Canyon. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to see it through,’” he recounted to the audience of several hundred crammed into the Marriott ballroom.

Climber and entrepreneur Malcolm Daly will need some of that grit as he circulates a petition to President Barack Obama advocating the creation a new 2-million-acre national monument around Canyonlands National Park. While the park itself is protected, the equally spectacular lands on its borders are under threat from oil and gas drilling, uranium tailings and tar sands extraction, explained Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA). “This is the greatest threat to Utah’s lands in the last 15 years,” he said.

“I’ve personally been exploiting southern Utah for all of my life,” Daly said, recalling his decades of hiking and climbing adventures in state’s famous red rock region. “Our goal with Greater Canyonlands is to protect the recreational economy by bringing everyone who plays in this region to the table to protect it and to manage it.” Seeking national monument status, he said, “is the lightest-touch way that we can take this land out of the extractive pipeline.”

At 337,540 acres, Canyonlands National Park is actually one-third the size of the original park boundaries proposed in the early 1960s. To placate opposition from Utah politicians and the mining industry, the park’s creators were forced to shrink its footprint to include only the most scenic areas. Later attempts to double the size of the park in the 1980s and 1990s were derailed following bitter opposition from Utah’s congressional delegation.

Daly said two factors differentiate his effort from those previous failures. First, the names on his letterhead don’t include the typical conservation groups who advocate for more parks and wilderness. In addition to Ralston’s backing, Daly has the support of the Outdoor Industry Association, as well as Utah business leaders like Black Diamond’s Peter Metcalf and Petzl’s Mark “Roody” Rasmussen. Daly’s goal at Summer Market was to expand business support by collecting thousands of signatures from outdoor professionals.

Building the business case for the national monument is crucial for its success, according to Ashley Korenblat, CEO of Moab-based Western Spirit Cyclery and a supporter of the project. “The conservation community is doing incredible things to protect pristine landscapes,” she says. “But the outdoor industry needs to add the economic and jobs based arguments to this discussion.” Korenblat explains that the traditionalist view that federal management cheats local people out of their wealth is outdated and wrong. “The outdoor industry has demonstrated over and over again that protecting federal land can attract businesses and create jobs,” she says.

The second difference is that Daly isn’t proposing more wilderness or another national park. Not only is a national monument easier to create (requiring a presidential act instead of congressional legislation), it also allows multiple uses, including grazing, off-highway vehicles and biking. “We’re reaching out to all types,” says Daly. “Environmentalists, conservationists, hikers, climbers, OHV-users, rafters, manufacturers, you name it.” While Daly acknowledges that hikers and ATV riders might not agree on all things, he said both groups can benefit from a new national monument. “The truth is that we are all going to suffer if these lands get blown up by drilling and mining.” His next step is to get the business community of Moab behind the project.

In his best-case scenario, Daly’s letter — backed by thousands of signatures from outdoor businesses and recreationists — will land on President Obama’s desk this fall. And then, with a stroke of his pen, the chief executive will create the 2-million acre Greater Canyonlands National Monument. If that scenario sounds improbable, it’s actually not without precedent. In September 1996 — two months before a presidential election — Bill Clinton created the 1.9-million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. He did it without consulting Utah’s state or congressional leaders, and gave them only 24 hours advance notice of his action. Clinton’s move proved so unpopular in Utah that he signed the bill creating the monument in neighboring Arizona.

Although nearby communities like Escalante, Kanab and St. George initially resisted the creation of the monument, they’ve since cashed in on the tourism boom that followed. Their turnaround mirrors the findings of a 2012 study by Headwaters Economics that determined that rural Western counties containing 30 percent or more federally-managed land increased jobs at a rate four times faster than rural counties with no federally protected lands. As Daly travels the dusty roads of rural Utah drumming up support for Greater Canyonlands, he’ll probably be repeating that statistic a lot.

Read our additional coverage on efforts by Aron Ralston (here and here), Peter Metcalf and OIAto help increase protections of federal lands in Utah.

–Jason Stevenson