Outdoor Industry Mobilizes for Public Lands Protection

Aug 8, 2014

The summer outdoor retailer show is at the Salt Palace this week, and some locals are using the event as a chance to get the increasingly powerful outdoor industry involved in the Utah public lands debate. Instead of “drill, baby, drill” they’re pushing the tagline, “play, baby, play.”

Ashley Korenblat is CEO of Western Spirits Cycling based in Moab. She’s also managing director of a new group called Public Land Solutions. She came to the outdoor retailer market with a video to share. It was put out by Center for American Progress, and the video claims that in Moab, the drive to produce oil and gas has put outdoor recreation at risk.

“People said, what, they’re allowing drilling in Moab? They had no idea,” Korenblat says. “It’s an educating process of helping people understand how we use the public lands and how we have to negotiate that balance, and it involves everyone being part of it.”

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is now finishing a plan initiated by the Obama administration that aims to balance drilling and recreation uses. Korenblat is encouraging everyone in the outdoor industry to get involved in this process, and support the BLM in a new approach to landscape zoning called master leasing. She says together, the industry can have a real impact on public lands policy.

“Right now, the outdoor industry in the US contributes 646 billion dollars to the economy. That’s bigger than pharmaceuticals, that’s bigger oil and gas,” Korenblat says. “It’s a big deal. It’s very main stream. It’s not just a few people going backpacking anymore, and we’re seeing growth in that industry in Utah faster than almost anything else.”

In the Moab area, the BLM has proposed four alternatives to the current leasing process that range from pre-selected areas where mining should occur, to no change in how business is currently conducted. The agency will make a preliminary choice among those options this fall. But it appears that change will not come easy. Last month, the Grand County Council voted to oppose any changes in the oil and gas status quo.