Outdoor Industry Sides With Public Lands; Outdoor Retailer Show To Leave Utah After 20 Years

UPDATED Feb. 21, 2017: As the Salt Lake Tribune noted in an editorial today: “The reason Outdoor Retailer is leaving — their rejection of Utah’s political leaders’ values as shown in the stubborn and pointless fight against a Bears Ears National Monument — should make this moment a turning point.”

Original post, published Feb. 20, 2017: “It is clear that the governor indeed has a different perspective on the protections of public lands from that of our members and the majority of Western state voters, both Republicans and Democrats — that’s bad for our American heritage, and it’s bad for our businesses. We are therefore continuing our search for a new home as soon as possible.” – Outdoor Industry Association statement, February 16, 2017

And with that, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) announced that the Outdoor Retailer Show will be leaving Salt Lake City, Utah after 20 years.

The money involved is serious–nearly $45 million annually–and so is the potential damage to Utah’s outdoor image. Many in Utah have worked hard to preserve access to the state’s treasure trove of public lands, and promote those lands to visitors. But the state’s Congressional delegation–led by Rep. Rob Bishop–and their crusade to transfer existing federal lands, undo the Bears Ears National Monument Obama designated at the request of tribes, and even gut the Antiquities Act– the law that allows presidents to designate national monuments in the first place, has finally led to this. It’s a big deal, and there will likely be more negative consequences to come. For example, Interbike, the bike industry trade show that has been held in Las Vegas in recent years and was looking for a new venue, announced on February 16 that “Utah is no longer in consideration as a potential show venue in 2018 or beyond.”

Although the break seemed to accelerate quickly–beginning January 10 with this op-ed from Black Diamond founder and CLF board member Peter Metcalf, and followed the next day by an open letter to Utah from Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard–it was a rift that had been building for years.

As Steve Casimiro notes in Adventure-Journal.com: “Utah will lose approximately $45 million that attendees spend at the twice-annual shows, most of which goes to Salt Lake hotels, restaurants, and other local businesses. For many small shops, the OR boom makes or breaks their year. But the industry has been working with—pushing—the state for more than a decade to adopt a friendlier approach to public lands stewardship.”

Instead, the state has staked out an extreme stance against public lands by attempting to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument and sell off federal lands by transferring them to the state. These extreme actions continue: just hours after losing the Outdoor Retailer Show, the Governor on Friday signed a resolution to shrink the 20 year-old Grand Staircase National Monument, despite protests by local business owners.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has argued for months that his state would make a better home for the convention, and as the Denver Post noted, the governor’s retail-magnate-turned-bike-czar Ken Gart made the argument in no uncertain terms in his keynote speech at the Outdoor Industry Association Rendezvous in Denver last fall, calling Utah’s public lands policy “dead wrong and frankly an insult to our industry.”

As shown by this coverage in Denver’s popular alt-weekly magazine Westword, Colorado is one of the states vying for the show: Conservation Colorado, a conservation non-profit in the state, took out ads in two Salt Lake papers (see link above for the ads) touting the state’s commitment to public lands.

“They’re cheeky,” says Conservation Colorado spokeswoman Jessica Goad about the ads. “They mention stronger beer and taller mountains. But they also talk about our love for public lands…. We believe the industry is looking for a place that echoes their values, and there’s no better place in terms of that than Colorado.”

Colorado is not alone. Montana, Oregon, New Mexico–supported by Senator Martin Heinrich, and Nevada are among the states now vying to attract the huge, twice-a-year trade shows.

While it’s cold comfort to the businesses and individuals caught in the crossfire of this battle, Utah’s elected officials have no one to blame but themselves. They ignored tribes repeatedly, ran out the clock and failed to pass their own Public Lands Initiative (PLI). When President Obama responded to tribes by designating a monument with nearly the same size and boundaries that Bishop himself argued for through the PLI, they reacted with outrage, presumably because their ineffectiveness had been revealed. Now, they are pursuing the most aggressive anti-public lands agenda in the nation, while claiming that their oil and gas industry campaign donors have nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, Utah may continue to suffer the consequences of these officials’ reckless decisions–until Utah voters show them the door.


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