Public lands leased to oil and gas companies lose value as current or potential recreation assets. The continued practice of leasing land with low potential for development gives preferred access to oil and gas companies over increasing demand for outdoor recreation opportunities that benefit local rural economies. Outdoor recreation businesses, as well as outdoor recreation enthusiasts, have a unique responsibility to be involved in problem-solving this issue so that our public lands are managed to support the well-being of local communities and to protect our air, water, fish and wildlife, and recreation resources.
There are common-sense solutions to this problem. One solution is to reform the oil and gas leasing program through legislation. Both US Senator Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Representative Susie Lee (DNV-3) have introduced bills that would end speculative leasing on public lands where oil and gas resources do not exist (or are found in very low quantities). These bills do not prevent public land from being leased for oil and gas development, but “concentrate development efforts [in] areas with higher development potential and financial value” which benefits both industry and local economies; low potential leasing will neither decrease gas prices at the pump nor produce stable revenue for local communities. Moreover, low potential leasing decreases opportunities to utilize land for other uses such as outdoor recreation, because land managers will prioritize the management of these lands for leasing and resource development.
Another solution is a new concept recently developed by the Utah Bureau of Land Management (BLM): when leasing public lands for oil and gas the agency should formulate a “recreational resources preservation alternative” which would consider the value of the land as an economic recreation asset during the public environmental analysis (EA) process. The BLM’s new “recreational resources preservation alternative” is an administrative solution that weighs the economic benefits to local communities and recreation uses of nominated parcels against the costs of oil and gas development and subsequent restoration. In other words: how will leasing the nominated parcels affect or change regional recreation assets, and will those impacts hurt rural communities hoping to diversify their economies?
Local elected and state officials are becoming more vocal and supportive of conserving land with high outdoor recreation economic value across the west, and now land managers have an alternative for moving forward with those goals in mind. Identifying and supporting smart solutions for increasing access to public lands will solve a broad range of issues. Outdoor recreation businesses are in the unique position of both advocating for more access and playing an important role in shaping sound energy policy. The encouraging trend of seeing more and more Americans taking advantage of the great outdoors should be reflected in the steps taken by land managers and elected officials. Public land conserved for outdoor recreation is land conserved for the future.
Jason Keith and Louis Geltman: Utah’s recreational lands deserve better protections in the Salt Lake Tribune from Jason Keith, Managing Director