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SALT LAKE CITY — A proposal to create a new national monument in southern Utah has added new intensity to an ongoing battle: who should control Utah's public lands?
Tuesday, a coalition of outdoor businesses formally petitioned President Barack Obama to designate a Greater Canyonlands National Monument in Utah.
The beauty of the 1.4 million acres of publicly-owned wildlands surrounding Canyonlands National Park is hardly in dispute. How to best manage the land has been a thorny debate for decades.
"The land is some of the most magnificent and spectacular in the state of Utah, and it deserves a higher level of protection that it currently has," said Peter Metcalf, president and CEO of Black Diamond Equipment.
Outdoor industry leaders, like Metcalf, see the petition as a way of protecting more public lands for recreation for future generations. Opponents fear that it will lock out off-road vehicles, and gas and mining interests.
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, who sits on the governor's Balanced Resource Council, said "It's going to be put into a management scheme that is not friendly and conducive to recreation. I think they are wrong. They will find that out."
The Outdoor Industry Association hopes its clout will help expand federal protection of the area to 2,200 square miles.
In a letter, they tell the president: "The future of our outdoor recreation economy depends on protecting iconic landscapes — such as Canyonlands — where people go to recreate."
They cite outdoor recreation as an economic engine that creates $256 billion annually in the western states alone and supports 2.3 million jobs. They believe the system favors oil and gas development and mining, rather than recreation.
"It's highest economic value, it's best and highest use, is to leave it as it is — because it is a gem and a magnetic draw for recreational lists from all over the world," Metcalf said.
But Noel thinks the state can handle its care. "I believe Utah can manage their lands in a better manner than the federal government can," he said. "I believe that we can have this beautiful scenery, and we can manage this recreation in a way that's friendly to everyone."
Michael Swenson, executive director of the Utah Shared Access Alliance, also fears restricted access for the 12,000 members of the Utah Shared Access Alliance, which aims to use motorized vehicles responsibly.
"We don't think that's the right way to go," Swenson said. "We think the people ought to have a safe through the representatives, as to how that land ought to be managed. "Our biggest concern is not that it will receive protection, but that it will lock the public out."
Supporters say restrictions would impact oil, gas and mining industries, but not responsible recreation in this red rock playground.
"(The area has) some of the best canyoneering, hiking, climbing, and backpacking, and camping, and four-wheeling on roads in the state of Utah, in the West," Metcalf said. The Outdoor Industry Association has already locked horns with Gov. Gary Herbert over a potential lawsuit dealing with control of public lands. Tuesday, the governor's office said no one has formally approached Herbert about a proposed monument.
In a statement, the governor's office said: "We certainly hope we don't have another Bill Clinton approach to creating a monument."
Peter Metcalf said it will be a long process.