Utah has a love-hate relationship with the outdoors and the outdoor industry.
Government dollars go to organizations like Ski Utah, which promote tourism in the state. Yet simultaneously, Gov. Gary Herbert and Rep. Jason Chaffetz also spend tax dollars drafting bills to regain state control of such areas so they can ruin the same land they spend money to promote, as if they have no shame. Earlier this year, Patagonia famously pulled out of the Outdoor Retailer trade show, a biannual convention that has been held in Salt Lake City for the past 20 years. Many other companies followed suit, leaving the Outdoor Retailer show itself to leave Utah and announce it will be looking for a new city to host the show.
One of the major reasons the companies pulled out was over 1 million acres of land known as Bears Ears National Monument, which former President Barack Obama established before his term ended.
President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order reviewing all national monuments put in place under the Antiquities Act under pressure from Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. Bears Ears falls under this review.
Many students at Westminster College said they agree with the Outdoor Retailer’s decision to pull out of the state in protest of its public land policies, including at Bears Ears.
“It’s a huge issue to me because [Herbert] didn’t support Bears Ears,” said Nick Strong, a junior marketing major. “I really wanted to do marketing for all the outdoor companies, and I was in the perfect place.”
The outdoor industry is a huge money maker for the state. Outdoor Retailer alone brought in $12 billion in consumer spending and 122,000 jobs.
“I understand why Outdoor Retailer is leaving Utah,” said Forrest Gucker, a senior environmental studies major. “I am afraid that now that the jobs in the outdoor industry are leaving that the state will rely on getting money from natural resources.” Members of the Republican party often campaign on the rhetoric of restoring “good, clean jobs” to the United States. When he sent the Outdoor Retailer show packing, Herbert made it
clear that jobs in the outdoor industry don’t fit those standards. However jobs in the natural recourse sector do fit the bill.
You don’t have to connect that many dots to see the picture. In 2010, Alton Coal Development LCC donated $10,000 dollars to Herbert’s campaign. The following year, Bowie Resource Partners—a company that owns three mines in Utah—donated $7,000 dollars.
One of the main arguments Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Herbert used in their effort to rescind Bears Ears is that its creation was government overstep, and the Republican party’s voter base often echoes statements like, “we don’t want big government in our backyard.”
But all big government does is protect your backyard.
It provides a budget for things like wildfire prevention and regulates cattle from overgrazing— two regulations that are not exactly restricting anyone’s freedom.
However, restricting freedom is exactly what Herbert wants to do. He wants to restrict people’s freedoms by taking away public land. By giving the land back to the state, land that was once public can be opened to coal and oil industries. By doing this, Herbert would be bringing “good, clean jobs” back to Utah.
By this point, you may be wondering how this affects you at Westminster College. Though not every student is affected by who owns land throughout the state, many are— especially students at the college who spend much of their free time in the woods and desert.
“A big reason I came to school here is because of what is around it,” said Chris Keim, a senior environmental studies major. “Everything I enjoy doing is in Utah.”
Keim said many of his friends feel the same way.
The goal of our local lawmakers is not to improve the Wasatch. Their goal is to make money off of development—and no one is stopping them.