Should Outdoor Retailer Leave Salt Lake?

Update (February 7, 2017): Last week, Utah Governor Herbert signed a resolution urging the Trump administration to rescind Obama’s designation of Bears Ears. As a result, Patagonia announced in a statement today that they would pull out of Outdoor Retailer.

Rose Marcario, president and CEO of Patagonia, said in a statement: “Utah has made it clear that their elected officials do not support public lands conservation nor do they value the economic benefits – $12 billion in consumer spending and 122,000 jobs – that the outdoor recreation industry brings to their state. Because of the hostile environment they have created and their blatant disregard for Bears Ears National Monument and other public lands, the backbone of our business, Patagonia will no longer attend the Outdoor Retailer show in Utah and we are confident other outdoor manufacturers and retailers will join us in moving our investment to a state that values our industry and promotes public lands conservation.”

Full statement here.

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When you walk the show floor at Outdoor Retailer, you’ll run into industry vets who have been attending that particular trade show since the mid-90s. I’m not one of them. This month’s Winter Outdoor Retailer {OR Show} was my ninth or tenth show. And per usual, it was fun because OR is *always* fun. The attendees are the types who wear flannel and drink beer as part of their usual routine; what’s not to like about that?

But this show was different due to the current political climate. Sure, we all laughed and joked but it felt different. There was a thick undercurrent of fear and uncertainty. Inevitably, one topic came up: our country’s public lands. This reached critical mass on Tuesday morning when an op-ed penned by Black Diamond founder Peter Metcalf ran in the Salt Lake Tribune. The title?

“Time for Outdoor Retailer to Leave Utah and its Anti-Recreational Policies.”

For most people in Utah, I imagine Metcalf’s article felt like a sucker punch. After all, it was Metcalf that helped jumpstart Utah’s outdoor industry  by relocating Black Diamond there in 1991. He also championed for OR Show to move there in the mid-90s. These days, Utah is a national outdoor mecca with–in my opinion–the best desert and canyon landscape in our country. Per Metcalf’s op-ed, the outdoor industry in Utah generates $12 billion annually with over 120,000 jobs.

Outdoor Retailer

PC: Will Rochfort

And did I mention that Outdoor Retailer alone brings in near $50 million annually in direct spending to the Utah economy?

So yeah, I understand why so many locals felt like Metcalf reached through the newspaper and slapped them in the face. By calling to remove Outdoor Retailer from their state, he is advocating to remove a large chunk of income from their economy. But here’s the thing: I might agree with him.

Utah has one of the most anti-public land stances in the country. Considering the entire outdoor industry is based on public land recreation, why would that very same industry want to financially bolster that which is condemning them?

Are Public Lands Worthless?

Because that’s exactly what some politicians decided last week, led by Utah Republican Representative Rob Bishop. While everyone was in an uproar over the changes to the country’s healthcare system, Bishop and other Republican lawmakers quietly authored a provision that orders the Congressional Budget Office to apply zero value to all federal lands when making decisions regarding the federal land. In a nutshell, this new language states that federal lands are literally worthless.

Why does that matter? In plain English, this group of politicians wants it to be a matter of federal policy that these lands have no monetary value when it comes to giving or ‘selling’ them away to state and/or corporate interests. Basically, this step paves the way for Congress to potentially hand over millions of acres of public lands to exploit for private gain….like oil and gas.

This doesn’t affect national parks, but it does affect National Forests, Bureau of Land Management areas, and Federal Wildlife Refuges. All that backcountry skiing I did this weekend? It was in a National Forest area. These areas contributes $646 billion annually in economic stimulus from recreation, and create a whopping 6.1 million jobs.

But they’re worthless?

But Wait, There’s More!

Almost immediately after the above provision, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced two new bills: H.R. 621 and H.R. 622.

H.R. 621 is scary: the bill calls for 3.3 million acres of federal land to be sold off. This land is in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

Outdoor Retailer

H.R. 622 seeks to completely terminate law enforcement functions of the Forest Service and BLM. Introduced last year, 622 never made it further than the introduction thanks to former Secretary Sally Jewell. Now that she is no longer running the Department of the Interior, there is a chance this bill could go the distance.

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Update (February 1, 2017): Rep. Chaffetz pulled H.R. 621.

Outdoor Retailer

Bears Ears National Monument

Another hot topic is Bears Ears National Monument.

“Bears Ears” is the coined term for a 1.3 million acre plot of land in southeast Utah. Nestled in that sprawling mass of wilderness are twin buttes, cleverly termed Bears Ears. In addition to being a beautiful area, Bears Ears is the home to tons of Native American burial sites; the land is considered sacred. Near as I can tell, people have been battling over this land for decades.

Of course, that was until former President Obama wrapped up his final term by using the Antiquities Act to designate the land a national monument on December 28.

Nationwide, people rejoiced. Internally, the Utah Republican leaders fumed, calling the move “overreaching” and declaring the Antiquities Act outdated. Utah Governor Herbert is leading the charge for an all-out assault against Obama’s Bears Ears designation, claiming that Obama’s unilateral decision wasn’t so cool.

How Does All Of This Affect Outdoor Retailer?

As an outdoor enthusiast, public lands are at the very soul of my being. The thought of these lands continually being ripped away is heart breaking.

I’ve had some conversations with friends who think putting these lands in private possession is a good thing. I’ve listened when they’ve told me, “Private owners take care of things better.” And I get it. In fact, that *could* be somewhat accurate. But will they share it with all of us? Seems unlikely.

If you read my site, there is a chance you too enjoy playing outside. How would you feel if your favorite trail for running was stripped away and sold off since it exists on BLM land? Or if that favorite backcountry skiing haunt was no longer accessible thanks to oil and/or gas extraction?

I couldn’t care less about political parties: I care about our land. Regardless of what side of the line you fall on, I think we can all agree that money talks and the entire country’s political hierarchy begins and ends with the almighty dollar. So how can we argue that the outdoor industry should continue to pour millions upon millions into a political regime that persists on suppressing our public lands?

As an outdoor enthusiast, public lands are the very soul of my being. Click To Tweet

Interestingly enough, my small sample survey on the show floor of Outdoor Retailer told me that most people felt the same way. We all love Utah; it’s easily one of my favorite places to visit thanks to canyon country. But those that I spoke with agreed that they wouldn’t mind leaving Salt Lake in order to stand up for their beliefs since the state appears to be in an all-out assault on our favorite playgrounds.

Not surprisingly, the most adamant about Outdoor Retailer staying in SLC were locals. I understand that; you have pride in your hometown, as you should. Quite a few of them told me that the outdoor industry should, “stay and fight!”

Outdoor Retailer

Here’s the thing: I absolutely agree with that. And for those of my friends that live in Utah, I strongly believe that you should do just that. As a tax-paying citizen, these representatives are your hired employees: tell them how you feel and do it in such a manner that they can’t ignore you. You are a constituent and your vote helps determine whether they keep their job. You personally have influence over their policies.

But for the rest of us who don’t live in Utah, who merely come in twice {Or more!} per year for Outdoor Retailer, how does continually attending the show help us fight? We have no influence since we are not residents. Near as I can tell, all our attendance does is continually pour money into the anti-public land policies. And in a twisted world where politics appear to be highly influenced by green paper, I think we should consider removing that from the equation. Perhaps Utah’s representatives would listen to the outdoor industry more if they really believed that a metric ton of cash was going to be taken away from them.

Again, money talks.

I also realize that entirely yanking the show out from under SLC is heartless. There are people in that community who depend on the income from the outdoor industry. This is why I fully support Patagonia’s stance on the stay-or-go topic.

On January 11, the day after Metcalf’s op-ed, Patagonia CEO Yvonne Chouinard took to the company’s site to pen his opinion. “We love Utah, but Patagonia’s choice to return for future shows will depend on the Governor’s actions. I’m sure other states will happily compete for the show by promoting public lands conservation.”

To me, this is the next step. Technically, Outdoor Retailer’s contract in SLC is up at the end of 2018. Perhaps, if enough outdoor brands threaten to boycott the show–and actually intend to follow through on their claims–Utah’s government will get the message. Maybe it will only take one show for the governor and state reps to realize that the outdoor industry means business.

Please, Utah. Show the outdoor industry that you actually want our business.

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15 Comments

  • Reply Adam January 30, 2017 at 9:03 am

    So, I typically try to avoid talking politics. Quite frankly I hate politics, but in this case I’d like to give my 2 cents on the matter. Our public lands are important. They’re not just important from an enjoyment/recreational standpoint, but from an ecological/conservation standpoint. I think the growing size of the outdoor industry speaks to just how much the American people appreciate these areas.

    The problem comes down to one thing: money. Certain political figures want to exploit these areas for money (oil drilling, mining, etc.). As you said, money talks. It is for this reason that I fully support members of the outdoor industry making drastic moves, such as pulling out of Utah. I fully believe that the only way to make these politicians care at all about preserving these areas is to show them that they DO have monetary worth.

    Yes they have worth that goes far beyond any monetary value, but, at the end of the day, the money is all the majority of the politicians are going to concern themselves with. If it’s moves like these that get them to wake up and start caring about our public lands, then I say go for it!

  • Reply Art January 30, 2017 at 9:42 am

    Thank you for writing a post on this important and pressing topic. The public lands of this country are one of the best parts about living here. The diverse beauty, and the ability of all to access such beauty and enjoy it (leading, as you have noted here before, to some stating that these lands are “overcrowded”), gives all an insight into the transcendent spirituality of the natural world. Simply maintaining them in good condition without leaving them open to all, as private ownership would result, would be robbing citizens of the nation’s wealth. Teddy Roosevelt said, “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.” This seems to me to be spot on in this decision to use public lands for private wealth. To this, I add a further Roosevelt quote regarding our great public lands, “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

  • Reply Rob Ford January 30, 2017 at 10:04 am

    Does anyone know what can be done by normal people in other states as well? I don’t even enter National Parks in the US because none allow my dog to visit the backcountry. I feel the NF lands are at the most risk because they are already used as “Natural Resource cultivating” areas. It would not be a large step to convince the 90% of the US population.

    I think along with the Outdoor recreational industry you can find some unlikely allies in the NRA and other super powerful lobbies who support the hunting and fishing industries.

    I hate feeling so powerless.

    • Reply Heather January 30, 2017 at 10:15 am

      I agree: I think the hunting and outdoor communities need to come together for maximum influence. I’m working on a project currently in an effort to combine those two powers; hopefully I can get it together soon enough to help make a difference. The hunting community contributes so much money and has so much pull on these decisions!

  • Reply Heather January 30, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    Heather this was well written with all major points highlighted well. I’m not huge into politics but when it comes to the land I spend probably 95% of my free time on it is hard not to become swept up in it all. I live here in Utah and I agree that Outdoor Retailer should find another state with more supportive representatives who do not wish to sell off public lands to the highest bidder. Yes it will stink losing such a huge revenue booster for Utah but it is what is necessary. Usually I am all for a stand and fight for what’s right response. But in the case of our public lands I believe the action that will speak the loudest is fleeing from the state that is at the helm of destroying those public lands that we all cherish and utilize. – Heather @ ExploreWithHeather.com

  • Reply Paul Osborn January 30, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    Sad times!

  • Reply Rachel @ Better LIVIN January 31, 2017 at 7:16 am

    Thank you for sharing this! It’s something that was covered in mainstream media for maybe a day and then forgotten. Public Lands are SO IMPORTANT! How can we continue to be outdoors, nature-loving individuals if the only public spaces are urban parks? Keep doing what you’re doing Heather!
    My brother lives in SLC and going to visit is the highlight of my year because we always go on some new outdoor adventure, I would hate to see those places get boughten up and turned private.
    http://www.betterlivin.ca

  • Reply Christy January 31, 2017 at 10:35 am

    I think the Antiquties (sp?) act can be over reaching.. private landowners often do take care of the land better than the federal government and any time the government uses the act to take away private property that is scary. I think it all depends on who lands get sold to though and what they plan to do with the land. Ranchers want nothing more than to take care of the land.. their living depends on it. I think for federal lands we all need to learn to get along and realize they are multi purpose. Private landowners also pay taxes on the land (at least in Montana they do, and significantly so) which returns money to the community they live in. Should existing Federal Lands be sold? I don’t fully agree but I am not totally against it either, if it could be guaranteed they weren’t going to be strip mined or just being sold to subdivide, of course me.. I would love to see them sold to young ranchers looking to get a start in the business or the people who have leased them for years and years and depend on them. That they are trying to slide it under the radar makes me not trust the whole thing.

  • Reply Christy January 31, 2017 at 10:37 am

    I do think public lands are so important to people to get to love, explore, hike and learn from. I think we need them!

  • Reply Christy January 31, 2017 at 10:44 am

    I also think states should have input on National Monument designations.. it shouldn’t be a decision coming from someone sitting behimd a desk on the other side of the country who has no stake in it making these designations. It’s so wrong in my opinion. so wrong.

    • Reply Casey Schreiner February 7, 2017 at 9:28 am

      Just some input from the ‘other side’ of this argument – I did some pretty intensive reporting on the Antiquities Act designation of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument outside Los Angeles.

      The Act gets a lot of press image as an almost monarchical law – the President can just do whatever they want and decree anything a National Monument with no oversight? What a power grab!

      The reality is a lot more complex. The Antiquities Act, as far as I know, has never been used to unilaterally decree a new National Monument that didn’t have a long history of grassroots support and organizations that were already on the ground who had done work and could pick up that work once the designation went through. In addition, the designation of National Monuments is probably the *most* flexible of land protection plans. In Utah’s Bear’s Ears, the Native American tribes and local ranchers have had lots of input in the process and will be exempted from additional restrictions for their traditional and historic activities. At least since 1996, all established National Monuments have included exemptions and protections for existing land use, even if there are plans to eventually phase out destructive uses.

      Here in the San Gabriels, the designation only moved forward an idea that had heavy local support but was stuck in the gears of the Republican Congress. Post-designation, the process kicked off two years of public meetings with a diverse group of preservationists and recreationalists, as well as local government. You honestly can’t get more local and inclusive than this process, especially in the federal bureaucracy.

      16 of the 19 presidents since the Act became law have used executive authority to establish or alter Monuments, and many of those Monuments eventually became some of our most treasured Parks, including Grand Canyon, Zion, Grand Teton, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and many others. It has historic importance in bypassing partisan infighting for the protection of natural and cultural treasures, and any pushes to weaken or reduce the powers of this Act are just another face on the insidious sagebrush rebel-led attack on the very system of public lands itself.

  • Reply Lynn @ The Not Dead Yet Blog January 31, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    I think “stay and fight” doesn’t make sense in this situation. Companies choose where to be based on favorable conditions. In this case, Utah is hostile and quite frankly shouldn’t be rewarded for bad behavior. If already being there (and threatening to leave) doesn’t change their political decisions, then staying won’t, either.

  • Reply Amiee February 1, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    This is an issue very dear to my heart and I as a Utah resident completely support keeping public lands in Utah public. That being said I’m trying really, really hard to understand this issue from the other side. The people that live closest to these lands are hurting and San Juan County (home to Canyonlands NP, several national monuments, national rec area, etc.) is the poorest county in Utah and one of the most economically depressed in the entire nation. Sadly the people that live there are not seeing any of the economic benefit; Outdoor Retailers brings in money to Salt Lake City, they’re not spending money in places like Monticello or Blanding, Utah. One thing I’ve learned from this past election is that we really need to take the time to try and understand the other side of the issue or we might get sucker punched with another Trump type result! I highly recommend listening to Utah’s Public Radio’s Radiowest episode discussing this issue: http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/economic-value-public-land

    • Reply Heather February 3, 2017 at 7:29 am

      I’ll check it out. Thanks!

  • Reply Casey Schreiner February 7, 2017 at 9:10 am

    I am also at the very least pro-saber rattling on this. Utah’s state and congressional districts are gerrymandered to a degree that the Sagebrush Rebels have a level of political power that does not match their actual numbers.

    As we saw in Indiana and North Carolina with their anti-LGBT statutes and policies, sometimes the only way to get through to some politicians is to threaten to yank a big pile of cash away. The outdoor community has done a good job of establishing (and communicating) the financial value of public lands for local economies. As much as I love visiting SLC for OR, pulling it from the city – or at least threatening to do that – is a good move that shows we’ll put our money where our values are.

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