SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — 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.
Herbert said the land swap agreement represents the kind of cooperation he hopes to see as government officials and representatives of Utah's booming outdoor industry come together at the summit.
Public lands policies have long caused tension between Utah leaders and representatives from the outdoor industry.
With two-thirds of Utah's land owned by the federal government, Utah's governor and Republican-controlled Legislature have pushed for the state to have more control of those spaces.
"This is our first recreation summit, so we want to introduce everybody to some of the issues," said Ashley Korenblat, who owns Western Spirit Cycling in Moab, a mountain biking hotspot. "The public lands issues are definitely part of the recreation economy, and we're looking at all kinds of different ways to sort those out."
If the friction continues, Korenblat said, it could harm tourism efforts or make people think Utah is more interested in mining and drilling than recreation on public lands.
Thursday's summit is one of the major elements of Herbert's broad-stroke plan to cultivate the state's $5.8 billion outdoors industry and promote Utah's natural and wild land attractions.
Instead of a sea of corporate suits, many attendees wore fleece pullovers, down vests and other outdoor gear while listening to talks that focused on the intersections of public lands policy, business, recreation and tourism.
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