The Outdoor Industry Association wants new national monument protection for 1.4 million acres surrounding Canyonlands, and industry giants like Patagonia are helping lead the push. But last week’s letter to president Obama was also signed by a long list of Utah and Moab businesses.
For the last few years the national outdoor retailing industry has been at odds with Utah’s attitude toward public lands. This latest campaign to create a “greater” Canyonlands is a reaction to increased oil and gas drilling, and has attracted the support of hundreds of Utah tourism businesses, dozens of them right here in Moab. They include Don and Denise Oblak, who run Canyon Voyages, a popular local guiding service.
Don: "I think people are pretty supportive of it."
Denise: "I think there is a very hopeful feeling, with this administration being re-elected."
Don: "A lot of people saw that this could be a benefit for us, especially in light of recent oil and gas proposals surrounding the Moab area. I think it just kind of makes us look at the bigger picture."
Bill Clinton approved the controversial Escalante National Monument during the waning hours of his presidency, and many expect that Obama would do the same. Opponents are likely to once again rally around the threat of closures for ATV trails, according to Don Oblak: "I think that will be coming, and hopefully we’ll be able to show them that, no, we’re not banning them completely from the area. We’re just trying to make it accessible for all types of users."
Denise: "I think that people understand that we’re here, we’re part of the business community, we’re providing jobs for people, helping people to pay their taxes and live here in Moab. I think it’s sort of the natural knee-jerk reaction, anytime that there’s extended wilderness proposals, that’s going to have a negative impact on other user groups. But it’s not the intent of this. The intent of this proposal is just to have smart development, more so with respect to oil and gas proposals, things of that nature."
Brett Sutteer operates Moab Cliffs and Canyons, a highly rated guide service for canyoneering trips.
"I encounter thousands of people a year that come here, and very few of them understand the complexities of the way the lands are managed here, and the struggles that are going on between the vested, you know, users, let’s say, the people that have an interest in it."
Like many of the proponents, Sutteer believes that even ATV advocates can be rallied to protect the Canyonlands.
"I look forward to there being more dialog, because I think a majority of Utahns support that kind of designation for protecting some of the lands from, you know, kind of bigger industry, extraction, that kind of stuff, versus, let’s say, barring people from accessing existing roads out there."
The Greater Canyonlands proposal has already attracted quick opposition from Governor Herbert and Utah representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz.