The Outdoor Industry Association, whose 4,000+ members make their livings by selling you and me tents, sleeping bags, cook-stoves, outerwear, skis, hiking boots and all the other cool gear needed to enjoy the out-of-doors, has a message for America's public lands managers and policymakers: Do a better job protecting our recreational lands.
That point was relayed on page 20 of the organization's annual "State of the Industry Report," but its placement in the 29-page report doesn't diminish its importance. And while the report doesn't directly attack efforts to revise the National Park Service's Management Policies in such a way that many fear will weaken the agency's preservation mandate, it makes it clear that the association opposes those changes, as well as other Bush administration policies regarding energy development in the West.
"There is an urgent need for policy makers to take a proactive stance on protecting our recreation gems, given that one-third of all America's lands are managed by the federal government," the report reads. "Recreation destinations like the Grand Canyon, the Great Smoky Mountains and the Everglades are national treasures that attract tens of millions of people each year. These destinations are integral contributors to a healthy America."
This is just the latest outcry by the OIA over the path the Bush administration and its allies in Congress are taking with public lands. Early in September the organization wrote both Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton and NPS Director Fran Mainella to complain about the initial draft of the revisions to the Management Policies.
Later in September the group opposed a supposedly tongue-in-cheek proposal by Congressman Richard Pombo, R-California, to sell off some Park Service units. More recently, the group released a survey showing that a strong majority of Americans want peace and quiet and human-powered, not motorized, recreation in our national parks.
In expressing its concern about the protection of public lands in its annual report, OIA turned to Peter Metcalf, president and chief executive officer of Black Diamond, a manufacturer of climbing and telemark gear, among other things, to comment on the current tack the Interior Department is taking with public lands.
"They (national parks) are places enthusiasts aspire to go to and, in the long run, those dreams drive participation in many outdoor pursuits," says Metcalf. "Yet threats to the quality of experience, exemplified by proposed relaxation of national park rules, pressure for increased oil and gas development, and efforts to sell off public lands are a growing concern."
While noting that recreation has become the greatest use of U.S. Forest Service lands over the past five decades, the OIA report adds that, "unfortunately for Americans, government funding for access and maintenance of public lands doesn't begin to appropriately address the recreation opportunities and other benefits we derive from them."
"Properly managed backcountry destinations provide clean air and water, habitat for fish and wildlife, and limitless recreation opportunities," the report adds. "If adequate and fully funded recreation infrastructure, both close to home and on our existing national public lands, was a top priority, the health of local economies, outdoor businesses, and the American people would not only improve, but flourish."