As Outdoor Retailer leaves Salt Lake City, Utah politicians learn that choices have consequences

The anti-public lands agenda takes its toll on Utah’s economy

Moab Brand Trails | BLM Utah

It’s the end of the line — after good-faith negotiations with Utah Governor Gary Herbert, the Outdoor Retailer trade show is leaving Utah in response to the state’s anti-public lands policies.

Yesterday, Gov. Herbert met with the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and industry leaders Patagonia, REI, and The North Face to discuss the future of the trade show. In what began as an op-ed written by Black Diamond co-founder Peter Metcalf, the pressure grew to over 30 outdoor industry leaders “publicly and emphatically” urging Outdoor Retailer to leave Utah if the show’s longtime home failed to make a course correction on its extreme positions on American public lands.

In the meeting, OIA requested that the governor end efforts to transfer federal lands to the state, nullify the Antiquities Act, and undo Bears Ears National Monument. Instead, OIA asked the governor to “embrace and actively support the outdoor recreation economy’s role in the state by supporting the public lands that provide the backbone of the industry’s sales.”

But, Gov. Herbert failed to rise to the occasion. OIA director Amy Roberts called the meeting “disappointing,” saying “what we heard from Gov. Herbert was more of the same.” Roberts added:

“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.”

Emerald Expositions, the trade show’s owner, put the nail in the coffin, announcing that the summer of 2018 will be Outdoor Retailer’s last time in Salt Lake City. The annual Interbike cycling show, also owned by Emerald Expositions, piled on. Interbike will no longer consider moving to Utah after its current contract with Las Vegas expires — instead, the show is considering moving to Denver.

The twice-annual Outdoor Retailer injects $45 million into Utah’s economy each year. But this is only a small fraction of the state’s $12 billion outdoor recreation industry, which accounts for a significant part of Utah’s economy. The connection between public lands access and a functioning outdoor recreation economy is undeniable. And this is where Utah fails.

Gov. Herbert has yet to hit the brakes on a $14 million lawsuit to force the American people to turn over public lands in Utah to the state. Earlier this month, the governor signed a resolution urging Trump to rescind Bears Ears National Monument while the Utah state legislature pushed to drastically shrink Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Peter Metcalf, founder of Utah-based Black Diamond Equipment, told the Washington Post “Utah is the birther state of the most anti-stewardship, anti-public-lands policy in the country and, conversely, I would say Colorado ranks very highly as the opposite.”

Other states are now bidding for the business of Outdoor Retailer and a share of the $646 billion outdoor recreation economy. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said that Colorado is “a better place to hold these kinds of conferences” adding, “I think we need more public land, not less.”

The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board warned Gov. Herbert not to call the industry’s bluff, but now it is too late. It’s time for Utah’s elected officials to make a U-turn from their extreme anti-public lands policies to prevent further damage to the state’s recreation economy.