Herbert signs long-awaited Utah land swap at first-ever state summit for outdoor recreation

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SALT LAKE CITY – Gov. Gary Herbert kicked off his first Outdoor Recreation Summit on Thursday by finalizing a long-awaited swap of state and federal lands in eastern Utah.

Congress authorized the deal in 2009, but it has taken years of negotiations to be finalized.

The deal gives the federal government about 25,000 acres of wilderness mostly in Grand County for conservation and recreation.

In return, Utah receives about 35,000 acres of energy-rich land, mostly in Uintah County.

“This is really a proverbial win-win of preserving lands that ought to be preserved and developing lands that ought to be developed,” Herbert told reporters after the signing.

Herbert, U.S. Bureau of Land Management state director Juan Palma and state trust lands director Kevin Carter signed the agreement in front of more than 400 attendees at the daylong summit in Salt Lake City.

The summit mirrors similar annual events put together by the governor’s office to discuss health care, economic, energy development and education.

Herbert said the land swap agreement represents the kind of co-operation and solutions he hopes to see as government officials and representatives of Utah’s booming outdoor industry come together at the summit.

The event, which focused on the intersections of public lands policy, business, recreation and tourism, is one of the major elements in Herbert’s broad-stroke plan to cultivate the outdoors industry and promote Utah’s natural and wild land attractions.

“We can grow the economy greater by making sure that this sector of outdoor recreation is a big part of that,” he said Thursday.

Herbert, a Republican, has pledged to actively support the outdoor recreation industry, a $5.8 billion economic force in the state.

His first move last year was creating a state office dedicated solely to outdoor recreation, the first of its kind in the country, and appointed an industry executive, Brad Petersen, to head it up.

The outdoor industry responded to the effort, with organizers of the world’s largest outdoor-gear trade announcing they’d signed a contract to continue holding their biannual expo in the state through August 2016.

The Outdoor Retailer expo has taken place in Utah since 1996 and pours $40 million into the local economy annually.

Organizers of the show and considered moving, citing a shortage of exhibition space and hotel rooms for the growing shows.

Utah leaders took steps to address that earlier this year, by approving a $75 million tax incentive for the builder of an 800- to 1,000-room hotel near the convention centre in downtown Salt Lake City.

Despite efforts to commit to the industry and address hotel space, there is lingering friction over public lands between Utah leaders and the Boulder, Colorado-based Outdoor Industry Association, which sponsors the gear expo.

The Outdoor Industry Association has opposed legislation signed by Herbert in 2012 that demands the federal government transfer control of much of Utah’s public lands to the state by 2015.

Speakers at Thursday’s event touched on the issue and the disagreement over public lands but kept their discussion mostly positive, emphasizing opportunities to work together.

“We may not agree on everything, but we’ll probably agree on most things,” Herbert said.

Herbert said Utah always will be a public lands state, but local officials want more input.

Outdoor Industry Association President and CEO Frank Hugelmeyer said public lands and outdoor recreation go hand-in-hand.

“We have a massive economic ecosystem that is built along public lands,” he said, from local urban spaces and trails to state and national parks and preservation areas.

There needs to be co-ordination between government and stakeholders in the outdoors industry, he said.

“That’s why I really congratulate Utah on creating a strategy because you are now going to be able to start to solve this within your state.”

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Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice

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