As outdoor companies take a stand, pressure grows for Utah politicians to make a U-turn on public lands

Their opposition to Bears Ears could cost the state millions

It’s been a rough week for politicians in Utah.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz faced a hostile crowd at a town hall meeting in his district Thursday night. An overflow crowd demanded answers on everything from public lands and the new Bears Ears National Monument to whether, as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he intends to perform any oversight of the Trump White House.

The evening was overshadowed by a mic drop moment from a ten-year-old girl who asked Chaffetz simply, “Do you believe in science? Because I do.”

Meanwhile, Governor Gary Herbert is furiously backpedaling from his own anti-public lands agenda as outdoor industry leaders make good on their threats to have the giant Outdoor Retailer trade show leave its long-time home in Salt Lake City. The trade show injects $45 million into Utah’s economy each year.

Patagonia and Arc’teryx pulled out of the show entirely this week, and by Friday morning the trickle turned into a flood, with Polartec and Peak Design joining the exodus, and Ibex announcing a scaled-back presence, sending its savings to public lands defense. REI, while still planning to attend Outdoor Retailer, says it strongly supports moving the show “if Utah persists in attacking our public lands — the sooner the better.”

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Herbert called for a meeting with outdoor industry officials, telling them to “take the politics out of this issue,” which is quite a request coming from a man who is actively lobbying President Trump to eliminate the new Bears Ears National Monument and eviscerate the 20-year-old Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument.

The pressure on Utah has been building for months. Last summer, the Center for Western Priorities launched a campaign calling on the state’s political leaders to make a U-turn from its misguided public lands agenda and recognize the economic impact of outdoor recreation in the state. Instead, Governor Herbert continued to threaten to file a $14 million lawsuit that, if successful, would force the federal government to dispose of almost all national public lands inside the state.

Asked about the potential lawsuit on Thursday, Herbert once again refused to back off, describing it as an “arrow” in the state’s quiver — admitting he intends to use the threat of litigation to get his way on America’s public lands.

As long as Governor Herbert and Congressman Chaffetz continue to threaten public lands in Utah, more outdoor businesses will acknowledge that Utah’s agenda poses “an existential threat” to the outdoor industry, as Black Diamond founder Peter Metcalf wrote. The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board warned Herbert not to call the industry’s bluff. Now it may be too late. Sitting down for a conversation with CEOs won’t make a difference — only changing Utah’s direction on public lands will be enough to convince the outdoor industry to stay.