Property Rights

Governor Herbert’s “Outdoor Recreation Vision” Means Big Government

Utah is one of several Western states actively fighting the federal government over its unconstitutional land hoarding policies. HB148, signed by Governor Herbert after 2012’s general legislation session, gave fuel to this decades-long fire and once again lit the match, initiating legal proceedings against the federal government to reclaim ownership of land within Utah which Washington does not rightfully own and regulate. (We supported a “yea” vote in our legislative index.)

A few months later, the Outdoor Industry Association came out in strong opposition to this effort, with the President and CEO stating that the industry is often “surprised and frustrated” by Utah’s “unfavorable positions on public lands policy.” In response to the desire by Utah elected officials to unlock land within the state from the grip of D.C., Outdoor Industry Association President and CEO Frank Hugelmeyer said:

Of greatest concern is the governor’s lawsuit challenging the federal government over jurisdiction of the federal public lands and some road claims within national parks, monuments and wilderness areas. We have not and will not sit silently on threats to the nation’s recreation infrastructure.

This was not empty rhetoric: as the OIA determines where it will hold its large conventions, the biggest is in Utah, which brings 47,000 visitors and $40 million to the state each year.

Apparently eager to resolve the dispute and play nice with the Association, Governor Herbert recently announced the state’s new “Outdoor Recreation Vision.” This series of recommendations recognizes the importance of outdoor recreation to the state’s economy and prosperity, and rightly so. We applaud, encourage, and support the wise use of resources to enjoy what this beautiful state has to offer.

But the “Vision” calls for big government, and the beginning of these proposals marks the end of our support. The following include some of the recommendations which increase government scope and intervention:

  • Establish an “Office of Outdoor Recreation” to implement all the recommendations contained in the vision. Hire a “Director of Outdoor Recreation” who will coordinate the Office and, one can presume, oversee a staff of employees to assist.
  • Organize an annual Utah Outdoor Recreation Summit to meet with outdoor-related organizations and collaborate on issues of “shared interest.”
  • Work with universities/colleges to “identify research gaps and develop the data needed to analyze the impacts of outdoor recreation and support future planning.”
  • “Provide State Support for Outdoor Recreation” since “state and local officials should support outdoor recreation to ensure a rewarding economic future in Utah…” Presumably, this means lobbying and encouraging politicians to increase or divert taxes “to develop and promote recreational infrastructure, information, and programs.”
  • Establish a Task Force to consider new funding mechanisms to support this vision. Because no amount of taxpayer dollars will ever be enough.
  • Restore funding for the “LeRay McAllister Critical Land Conservation Fund” through which the state has spent $20 million of taxpayers’ money to offer grants to private land owners to self-impose conservation easements upon their own property.
  • Increase funding for the Walk-In Access Program which compensates willing landowners in exchange for allowing the public to hunt and fish on their land.

The list of government involvement in the outdoors continues in the proposed Vision, and is lengthy. Short of appeals for volunteers and public participation sprinkled throughout, it’s hard to reconcile the document with the Governor’s alleged affinity for the free market.

In his recent inauguration, the Governor stated that “the most powerful engine in the world for prosperity is the private sector operating in a free market system.” We agree, and would prefer to see proposals that actually reconcile with this statement. The Outdoor Recreation Vision does not.

Many wrongly believe that the government plays a necessary role in conserving and maintaining precious natural resources. This incorrect view holds that it is justified to tax all citizens within the state to subsidize the activities of those few who wish to utilize the resource, and that were government to not be involved, the resource would decay or be destroyed. Milton Friedman exploded this myth, as did Doug French recently in a modern example that further refutes it. In short, there is no conflict between the (actual) free market and the environment. In fact, the free market is what can best help to protect and preserve important and scarce natural resources.

The Governor should be applauded for his desire to support the outdoors and encourage the industry that helps Utahns take advantage of it; but raising taxes, increasing government, and further entrenching the state into what should be private property must be repudiated by all who claim to work towards a free market.