- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Gov. Gary Herbert said Tuesday that the state is committed to protecting Utah’s pristine public lands, while also allowing access to ranchers and farmers and for energy development.

During the opening of the state’s second annual Outdoor Recreation Summit in Salt Lake City, the Republican governor told more than 500 attendees that embracing the burgeoning outdoor industry is a key part of his plan to grow the state’s economy. The event is part of an ongoing effort by Herbert and state officials to show the lucrative industry that Utah is an ally that shares many of the same visions.

“Our goal is to make sure we have that appropriate balance that allows us to protect those iconic vistas and venues that we have in the state (and) let our ranchers and farmers have access,” Herbert said.

His comments came a day after several hundred people rallied at the state Capitol against Utah’s push to take control of 31 million acres of federally owned land in the state. Holding signs that read, “Protect Wild Utah” and “No Utah land grab” the people called on Herbert to retreat from the effort, saying transferring nearly 31 million acres of public land in Utah would limit access for hunters and outdoor-recreation enthusiasts and harm wildlife by splintering habitat.

Herbert told The Associated Press after his speech that there are misunderstandings about the state’s push to take control of federal lands. He said the 2012 law he signed that demands that the federal government hand over the lands was fueled by the belief that locals know how to run the lands better than federal officials thousands of miles away.

“We hear the argument that they are going to try and grab the lands and sell them off. That couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Herbert said. “We think we should have more to say about what’s taking place… It’s not just for outdoor recreation only. There is also industry and natural resource development and energy. All those things need to meet together in responsible ways.”

REI president Jerry Stritzke, who also spoke at the summit Tuesday, said understands the tension and arguments on both sides of the debate, including the state’s desire to consider other uses of the land to drive the economy. Stritzke said he’s seen enough from Utah officials to believe officials intend to be good stewards of the land.

Stritzke told summit attendees that Utah should be commended for creating an office of outdoor recreation, holding the summit and recognizing the immense potential of the outdoor industry. Stritzke said Utah is becoming a model for how other states should work with the outdoor industry, estimated to bring in an annual economic benefit of $40 million to Utah. That’s one reason many companies are moving their operations to Utah, he said.

“We see Utah really understanding the power of the outdoor industry and playing a leadership role in how it addresses that,” Stritzke said.

Stritzke took over Seattle-based REI in 2013 after Sally Jewell left to become secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Stritzke told summit attendees that the industry has the potential to be a powerful force in political debates but needs to modify the narrative about outdoor recreation companies. They should be known not only for the economic impact, but also for how the industry promotes “life-changing, inspiring experiences that connect people to the outside,” he said.

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