Oil and Gas Drilling Threatens Another Utah Wilderness Area

Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness area 2.jpg

But opposition arises from the outdoor recreation industry.

In June, at the height of the budget battle, we wrote about the Obama administration’s unfortunate backtracking on a key policy to protect wild lands.  By agreeing to a Republican sponsored rider that curtailed safeguards against development in wilderness areas, the administration was in the unenviable position of pulling back efforts to conserve key iconic lands in the West.  At the time, it was conceivable that this policy withdrawal would put millions of acres of wilderness quality lands at risk.  Unfortunately, that prediction is looking to possibly become true.

Photo Credit: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA)

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages hundreds of millions of acres of federal lands in the West, while also overseeing thousands of oil and gas drilling operations in many of these areas, is now contemplating to approve extensive drilling operations in the Desolation Canyon wilderness of Utah.  Oil and gas drilling, for obvious reasons, would forever render the area into something far less than what it is now – that being an incomparable wilderness.

To that end, there has been a lot of discussion about jobs from proponents of the oil and gas industry, but often lost in the rhetoric coming out of this often one-sided discussion is a conversation abut sustainable jobs that stems from the conservation of key public lands.  This is a story that deserves far greater attention.  Specific to what is going on with Desolation Canyon, over 30 outdoor businesses associated with the Outdoor Industry Association endorsed a letter strongly protesting BLM’s proposal to allow drilling in the region.  The letter represents a who’s who of the outdoor industry, and their collective point goes beyond the notion of protecting wilderness for wilderness sake, but also conveys the notion that conserving these lands is good for business and good for jobs.  The CEO of Black Diamond, Peter Metcalf, makes this case best in the letter:

Protecting Desolation Canyon not only makes sense because it is the right thing to do - it makes good economic sense. River recreation is an important aspect of Utah's outdoor recreation industry, which according to the Outdoor Industry Association, adds $4 billion to Utah's economy as well as supports 65,000 jobs and generates about $300 million in annual state sales tax revenue.

What is not conveyed in those numbers is just how important the outdoor industry’s relationship is with America’s great outdoors – that these companies are world beaters, representing the best of American ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit.  Nearly all of them started in someone’s garage or basement, by individuals bent on trying to develop a product or concept in order to improve their chosen outdoor pursuit.  Travel the world’s recreation hot spots, and what you will see are American designed mountain bikes, rock climbing equipment, ski apparel, kayaks and more.  Such brands as North Face have become international fashion statements.  One of the reasons for this is that these American companies possess a competitive advantage above many of their international competitors.  This advantage is that they have access to one of the best testbeds to be found: America’s incomparable wild lands.  And not only is a great testbed, our wild lands provides a built in market for these products to incubate and grow.  Few nations can compete with such inherent advantages. 

In short, while oil and gas drilling might create a few short-term jobs, it’s hardly a path to long-term job growth and sustainability.  Moreover, our nation’s natural heritage will pay the most awful price imaginable if such a shortsighted vision goes forward that embraces drilling over conservation.

Go to NRDC's BioGems website to take online action to communicate to the administration and the Department of Interior that they must stand strong in protecting wilderness lands like Desolation Canyon.