Babbitt to Outdoor Industry: get your act together now

IMG_4598Utah and Bruce Babbitt have a history.
In the 1990s, when he led efforts to designate nearly two million acres of the Grand Staircase Escalante area as a National Monument, folks here hung him in effigy.
How foul was the vibe?

The ceremony had to take place across the border in Arizona. The former Arizona governor helped set aside a record 21 such designations during his tenure as President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of the Interior.
But at the Conservation Alliance breakfast, held before a full house in a Marriot Hotel ballroom during the Outdoor Retailer Market, Babbitt was among friends. He received a standing ovation before AND after his talk.
And he used these cozy quarters to lambast Governor Herbert as well as Utah’s land-grabbing legislative efforts, better known as H.B. 148 “Transfer of Public Lands Act and Related Study.”

The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

“The real reason for this [transfer legislation] is to provide a conduit by which the public lands of this state can be transferred to Utah in order to be served up to coal, oil and gas, and mineral industries for exploitation,” he said.
In addition, he spoke scathingly of the 784-page study of the proposed land transfer, conducted by the University of Utah, Weber State University, and Utah State University”
“This movement right now is kind of being dressed up with a bunch of universities and academics making metrics and economic arguments,” he said.

10300002_10152309412698264_2038760908598031013_nIn fact, The report does address the impact on outdoor recreational interests with the exact statistics used by Babbitt: According to the Outdoor Industry Association, it’s a $645 billion annual industry, growing five percent annually. It’s bigger than pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles, and gas industries, it said. Read the report here.
The authors, for example, considered a specific economic model to calculate the potential Willingness to Pay (WTP) losses if there were more oil development on elk-hunting land. Essentially, folks pay huge money to hunt trophy elk in pristine wilderness. If industry comes in, stirs up the elk population and wrecks the panoramic photo opportunities, the WTP goes down. Hunters go elsewhere.

The report also noted key findings of a 2007 statewide survey addressing quality of life, outdoor recreation, and public land access. To note:

  • Folks move here for the “natural amenities” of public lands and protected landscapes.
  • Those conditions are directly connected to “local economic well-being, including in particular income levels, income growth, and employment growth.”

In other words, people who move here aren’t slackers, living out of their cars, camping on BLM land, and cooking up ramen night after night. They’re smart, go-getters who contribute significantly to the economy:

“[They] tend to be highly educated and employed in skilled and professional occupations [which] can cause such areas to exhibit enhanced levels of “human capital.”

It’s true, though, the bulk of the report is dedicated to expected mineral leases, mining sales, timber, gas and coal development and the gains therein.

Map-of-Federal-Government-Land-OwnershipBabbitt, 76, compared the recent land transfer movement to the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970-80s, in which several western states’ citizens and politicians lobbied (sometimes violently) for state entitlement to federal land. The federal government owns 96 percent of Alaska, 81 percent of Nevada, 66 percent of Utah, 64 percent of Idaho, 53 percent of Oregon, and 48 percent of Wyoming.
But now, he said, this new Sagebrush Rebellion is sponsored by energy companies and special interest groups which funnel torrents of cash to politicians.
“It’s a new crowd of players. We think of Cliven Bundy and those sorts as being the face of this Sagebrush Rebellion. But this is different. They’re pushing those guys off the stage. They’re bringing in really sophisticated actors.”

What’s the outdoor industry to do?

  • Fight fire with fire, he said.
    The outdoor recreation industry, though not as established or coalesced as the mining and timber industries, is a $646 billion a year industry supporting more than six million jobs, according to the Center for American Progress.But it’s a “sleeping giant,” said Babbitt.If the Patagonia’s and REI’s of the world want to safeguard wilderness for their customers, they best organize and start flexing their money, lobbying, and advocacy muscles. He urged the audience to seek recognition as an economic sector by the U.S. Commerce Department.
  • Get young people involved. As the country continues its trend toward urbanization, get creative in how you npslogo copyreach city folks and motivate them to recreate in the outdoors.
  • Next year, the National Park Service will celebrate its centennial. Make the most of it.
    “Turn that into a celebration of public lands and the potential for public lands,” he said. “You’ve got the chance to really make a difference to protect the resources that are the base of your entire industry. This is the moment to come together and stand tall.”

All work and no play makes Jake a dull boy

It’s a proverb taken to heart by many in the Beehive State, especially those of us who’ve chosen Utah first for recreation and then later do we figure out ways to stay here and make a living.

Skier and mountain biker Will Hamill did just that more than 20 years ago. Now, his Uinta Brewing is a multi-million dollar operation and ranked 46th among craft brewing companies, according to the Brewers Association. Read more here.

Jake Boyd, a University of Georgia graduate, knew only three Utahns when he moved west about five years ago for the skiing. Shortly thereafter, he founded AllGood Provisions, an organic line of snacks and trail mixes.

Cashews-4-0z-products-pageWhat caught my eye about AllGood?

To be honest?

The Maine connection.

AllGood roasts cashews with maple syrup from Brownville, Maine. Wicked good.

More seriously, the AllGood line of nuts and berries is a refreshing departure from the who-knows-where-it-comes-from, who-knows-what’s-sprayed-on-it line of snack options usually available.

Why buy nuts and dried fruit from an anonymous source in Israel or Turkey when you can buy them from a family farmer in California?

What started as a nights-and-weekends operation quickly blossomed into a full-time gig for Boyd and his current staff of about a dozen. AllGood has nearly doubled in growth these past few years.

IMG_4489You can find bags of High Antioxidant Trail Mix – jumbo Thompson raisins, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, Goji berries, cranberries, mulberries – in 300 stores across 38 states and online. Also available: pistachios, almonds, blueberries and bananas.

Aside from the maple-roasted cashews, I’m a sucker for the tart cherries, grown right here in Utah as well as Washington.

One percent of sales goes to 1% for the Planet, an environmental organization with local, national and international efforts. Boyd recently stopped by Trees for the Future, a 1% for a Planet connection in Honduras. What was he doing in Honduras? En route to surfing, of course.

Become a UtahOutsider Insider and we’ll send you All Good samples.

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Finding Mob in Moab

balFinally, a trip south!

Sure, UtahOutsider checked out Lake Powell last year. But we’d yet to visit Moab and parts in southeastern Utah.

With Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire tucked in the glove box, we headed to the country’s park showcase (There are a whopping five national parks in southern Utah – Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Capitol Reef, and Bryce).

Way back then (Abbey worked as an Arches park ranger in 1960’s), the author complained about cars and tourists. I thought I was prepared.

But apparently, I spend way too much time on my own, exploring wilderness on my own terms, without strangers, without noise, without official direction. The scene was a shock to the psyche.

kAround dusk on a Sunday evening, we arrived at Wolfe Ranch and trekked up the red rocks to Delicate Arch. Germans, Chinese, Australians, Latinos, Utahns, Texans, and Arkansans trudged, too, with inappropriate footwear, expensive cameras bouncing off their chests, and plastic drink bottles at the ready. (I found this last point particularly amusing since it was just a short hike with temps in the 40s, yet clearly our fellow visitors were respecting park notices to the letter: “Drink at least one gallon of water per day! Carry and drink water during all activities such as hiking!”)

When we got to the famous arch, I considered it as an agnostic might consider an image of Jesus (in a tree, in a cloud, etc.). What makes it any more special than all the other natural wonders around here?

Delicate Arch swirled with human pollution of the audio and visual kind. I listened as tourists murmured, chatted and yelled (“Hey, could you move so I can get a good picture?!” Flashes interrupted the view. Noise was like gurgling water in a dirty, frothing stream.

An exponentially better time was had at Kane Creek, a BLM area south of Moab. We hiked there for a few hours, enjoying sightings of rabbits, hawks, a quiet, ice-encrusted creek and no humans.

Another great walk was found at the foothills of the Manti-La Sal National Forest, also just off Route 191 (Moab’s main street) south of town.

Moab itself seemed overrun with franchises and that monotone of quick, colorless development. But we found hope at Moab Coffee Roasters and the Moab Brewery.


Future visits will improve the perspective and change the lens. I’m looking forward to washing off some cynicism.







The Case Against Dogs

Dogs: beloved companions on nearly all UtahOutsider hikes and rides. Because of dogs, I see more wildlife and feel more a part of the wilderness. As four-leggeds with keener senses of smell and hearing, I consider them a bridge to the wild. Often, I follow their line of sight to spot deer, quail, turkey, and coyotes. IMG_4823Through their actions and behaviors, I’m reminded that the human perspective is just one lens, not necessarily the ultimate one or the most insightful when it comes to happenings in the wild.

However, Tom Becker, a Utah wildlife biologist for more than two decades, reminded me dogs aren’t all good. Especially in the winter, their presence has a negative impact on prey animals. They move grazers off feeding grounds and force them to expend valuable energy – two precious commodities when it’s cold and barren around here.

As in many states, folks can shoot dogs if they are chasing or threatening livestock or protected hooved wildlife (like deer). The same goes for dogs in national parks or wildlife refuges. Read the state law here and the federal law here. Even in dog-friendly Massachusetts (where I lived for a time), dogs are banned from all Audubon Wildlife Sanctuaries.

Back then, I was put out.

IMG_3399But I get it. Hiking and riding with dogs is like adding a few more predators to the neighborhood. They can wreck bird nests, kill bunnies, and stress nearly all immediate wildlife. This year, with the help of electric collars, I’m teaching them not to chase after prey. If I can reduce their impact and still benefit from their presence, it’ll be a win-win. Or at least, I’ll keep them from being shot.

Read about UtahOutsider’s kind of surveillance.

Read about dog perspectives.

Another note: I’ve officially given up trying to distinguish coyote tracks from my dogs’ tracks. Can you tell the difference? Check out more images on UtahOutsider’s facebook pages.


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