If you care about conservation, public lands or simply not being poisoned by the air you breathe, it has been a very bad month. Where to start? A man who wants to gut regulations designed to protect public health is now the head of the Environmental Protection Agency—Scott Pruitt has, in fact, sued the agency 13 times. That’s like putting Ted Bundy in charge of a Girl Scout camp. I guess we should not worry too much since there’s currently a bill (H.R. 861) making the rounds in Congress that would simply eliminate the EPA.
When it comes to public lands, the news is worse. Spearheaded by the state government of Utah, the movement to do away with public lands is gaining power. Utah’s legislature already passed a law claiming that 31.2 million acres of federal public lands in the state no longer belong to the rest of us. Since Utah cannot afford to manage these lands, this will most likely result in much of it being sold off to private owners and lost forever. Don’t believe me? Look at the usually liberal state of Oregon, where 84,000-acre Elliott State Forest is up for sale since the state can’t afford it.
In January, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill that would sell off 3.3 million acres of public lands across the West. That at least set off protests in Montana and New Mexico and an outcry from the normally conservative hook-and-bullet community. After just a few days, Chaffetz claimed to rescind the bill when he posted a photo on Instagram of him decked out in camo, holding a puppy and declaring himself a proud gun owner. But the bill is not officially dead and another of Chaffetz’s bright ideas, this one emasculating the law enforcement abilities of the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, is still very much alive.
Piling on, last month, the Utah legislature voted to rescind the newly created Bears Ears National Monument and reduce the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, created during the Clinton Administration. This was the last straw for big outdoor brands like Patagonia and Arc’teryx, who have been attending the Outdoor Retailer show, which pumps close to $50 million into the local economy annually, in Salt Lake City since 1996. They decided to boycott the show in the face of Utah’s aggressive policy of dismantling the industry that pumps $12 billion and 122,400 direct jobs into the state each year. When the organizers of the show and the Outdoor Industry Association met with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to ask him to stop the attack on the public lands that feed this sustainable economy, Herbert laughed them off so badly, the show declared that not only will it pull out of the state, it will also never bring related shows like Interbike there. That’s a stunning loss for Utah in many ways.
Ok, take a deep breath. There is hope here in Colorado. The new Colorado Office of Outdoor Recreation is pushing the benefits of sustainable recreation and lobbying for the show. And just look at Colorado Springs, which racked up five wins in our Best of the Rockies poll, and earned the cover of this issue. Here, in a town once derided for being too conservative, an outdoor community is thriving. And though they may come from a wide variety of political backgrounds, the recreationists that live there all value what public land gives them and their beautiful city. So be like Colorado Springs, Utah. Bring us together, rather than ripping what we all love apart.