2003 Golden Piton Awards: Service

Peter Metcalf's Environmental Activism

 

Climbers get precious little respect among political movers and shakers. A land manager here and there, sure, a voice in the fixed-anchor debate or other legal issues, yes, but when climbers start throwing their weight around trying to strongarm a policy shift, it’s like a minnow trying to nudge a shark.

Yet this May, longtime climber and Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf wrote an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune blasting Utah’s governor, Mike Leavitt — who has since become head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — for making a stealth deal with Secretary of Interior Gail Norton to strip six million acres in wild Utah of its Wilderness Study Area protection.

What stood out about the move was not the wilderness-advocate stance, which is common among outdoor folks, but the economic clout that backed up Metcalf’s position: as a key member of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), he threatened to move the industry’s biannual trade shows, worth $24 million in revenue, out of the state. “Suddenly, OIA and the industry were being considered serious economic players that had to be accounted for during any political discussions involving recreation or public lands,” reported the outdoor-industry trade publication SNEWS. “By the time the dust settled, Leavitt was gone to head the EPA, but not before he agreed to formally oppose 15 new gas wells proposed for drilling by the BLM, and not before he signed an executive order creating the Outdoor Recreation Economic Ecosystem Task Force to help resolve the status of Utah’s unprotected wildlands and promote the states’ recreational economy.”

Metcalf, and the OIA membership that supported him, changed the face of negotiations involving primitive recreation on public lands, showing that leaving wild lands wild is green in more ways than one. Like it or not, money talked, and this time it said, “Climbers count.”

 



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