Two times each year, for around the last two decades, the outdoor industry holds its biggest extravaganza in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Outdoor Retailer show, better known as "OR", is where the biggest brands in the business of the outdoors show off all their latest and greatest. Not only do these shows repeatedly place Utah's outdoor industry in spotlight, they reportedly bring over $50 million in direct spending to the state each year. OR is big business for Utah. In the last two days, however, two of the most prominent outdoor brands — Patagonia and Utah-based Black Diamond — have called for the show to cut its ties with the state and take that big business elsewhere.
Historically, siting the twice-annual OR shows in Utah has made a bevy of sense. Utah is an outdoor-lover's mecca whose offerings span a diverse array of activities including fishing, hunting, skiing, climbing, hiking and much more. The state also has some of the most manifold and stunning public lands which represent not just the backbone but the entire skeletal support system for Utah's vibrant outdoors economy.
Over the last several years, however. Utah's leadership has led an ever-increasing assault against those public lands and not only in Utah, but across the nation. Utah congressman Rob Bishop, with his strong ties to the draconian ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Commission), has long been the poster child for this Utah-led war on public lands and public access. But Bishop has not been the only Utah crusader against public lands. Rather, Utah's entire D.C. coalition (2 senators and 4 congressman) have consistently voted in virtual unison against public lands protection and in favor of public lands transfer, defunding of the Land and Water Conservation fund, increased access for oil and gas drilling on public lands and so on. Earlier this year, the Utah's governor's office enthusiastically joined the fray, with Gov. Gary Herbert's office leading a charge against designation of the Bears Ears National Monument and is now spearheading an effort to have its designation reversed.
In open letters to the outdoor community, Patagonia's Yvon Chouinard and Black Diamond's Peter Metcalf have said enough is enough, demands Herbert and the rest of Utah's leadership to put an end to all efforts to gut, dismantle and transfer public lands. Should those demands not be met, Metcalf and Chouinard say the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), which run OR, must immediately take the shows elsewhere.
Metcalf, who long ago led the effort to move the OR shows to Utah, wrote in particularly scathing language.
Our trade show, Utah's outdoor recreation industry and the relocating of many high-tech businesses to the state are predicated in great part on the thoughtful public policy that includes unparalleled access to well-protected, stewarded and wild public lands. Tragically, Utah's governor, congressional delegation and state Legislature leadership fail to understand this critical relationship between our healthy public lands and the vitality of Utah's growing economy.
Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah's D.C. delegation are leading a national all-out assault on the sanctity of Utah and the country's public lands. Together, Utah's political leadership has birthed an anti-public lands political agenda that is the driving force of an existential threat to the vibrancy of Utah and America's outdoor industry, as well as Utah's high quality of life ...
Political officials rationalize their actions with false truths, fictional ideologically based narratives and fear-mongering. They neglect the critical role public lands play in boosting Utah's economy, making the state a great place to live, work and play. They even fail to understand that four of Utah's five iconic national parks, which are the economic engines of their regions, were created through use of the Antiquities Act — as was Bears Ears National Monument.
This agenda is antithetical to our industry, let alone the majority of our citizens regardless of party affiliation. By our industry's twice-annual trade show remaining in Utah, we are actually complicit collaborators in our own demise. It's time for the industry to again find its voice, speak truth and power to power while making it clear to the governor and the state's political leadership that this trade show will depart with the expiration of the current contract in 2018 unless the leadership ceases its assault on America's best idea.
Chouinard's sentiments on behalf of Patagonia were no more generous.
The outdoor industry creates three times the amount of jobs than the fossil fuels industry, yet the Governor has spent most of his time in office trying to rip taxpayer-owned lands out from under us and hand them over to drilling and mining companies. And just a few days ago, the state announced plans to sue the federal government to reverse the recent protection of Bears Ears, a site containing thousands of years of Native American archeological treasures and craggy red rocks beloved by climbers from all over the world. Politicians in the state don’t seem to get that the outdoor industry – and their own state economy – depend on access to public lands for recreation.
I say enough is enough. If Gov. Herbert doesn’t need us, we can find a more welcoming home. Gov. Herbert should direct his Attorney General to halt their plans to sue and support the historic Bears Ears National Monument. He should stop his efforts to transfer public lands to the state, which would spell disaster for Utah’s economy. He should show the outdoor industry he wants our business – and that he supports thousands of his constituents of all political persuasions who work in jobs supported by recreation on public lands.
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.
OIA's response to the brand-led backlash suggesting that the outdoor industry should leverage its economic influence to pressure Utah's legislature was encouraging, but stopped short of committing to a move, stating that "A small, but loud group of legislators is trying to sell off the public lands that bring so much return to our $646-billion-dollar industry, communities and economies across the country. This is a real issue being debated in the halls of Congress, at the state and national level. 2017 has already brought legislation that makes it that much easier for our lands to be sold off to the detriment of many, for the benefit of a few ... Utah has some of the most beautiful landscapes and waterways in the world ... We must be clear that protection of America’s public lands, including those in Utah, are critical and any threat to their protection is a threat to the outdoor industry. The Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Retailer will continue to listen to members and show attendee feedback on both the appropriate venue for the show as one factor along with considering the need to have the show in a location that meets the business requirements of the industry."
Elected officials and special interest that seek to divest American's of their public lands are strengthening their attacks. Their efforts represent a clear and present danger to our longstanding outdoor heritage and traditions. As Black Diamond's Metcalf notes, "The Utah delegation has wasted no time in the first days of 2017 to enact their destructive agenda, and now the outdoor industry, too, must respond boldly and unified."