by Annie Knox
Nothing like the great outdoors—to spark controversy over Utah’s efforts to control federal lands.
The twice-annual outdoor industry trade show that brings an estimated $45 million to Utah each year is abandoning Salt Lake City as state lawmakers push against the new Bears Ears National Monument and pursue broader land-transfer policies.
After two decades in Salt Lake City, Outdoor Retailer announced Thursday that Utah will no longer be in the running to host the convention after its current contract runs out in 2018.
The announcement came just a few hours after Gov. Gary Herbert sought to calm the tension over the phone with the show’s retailers and leaders.
“We are doing the work necessary to procure an alternative location for Outdoor Retailer,” Marisa Nicholson, show director for Outdoor Retailer, said in a statement.
Convention organizers and leaders of Patagonia, Inc., REI and The North Face, said the state’s calls for more control over Utah’s public lands threaten their businesses. They fear Utah would open its vast outdoor playgrounds to drilling and mining if it gains oversight of millions of federally managed acres covering two-thirds of the state.
“It is important to our membership and to our bottom line,” Outdoor Industry Association Executive Director Amy Robert said, “that we partner with states and elected officials who share our views on the truly unique American value of public lands for the people and conserving our outdoor heritage for the next generation.”
But Herbert remains firm in his opposition to greater protections for the soaring Bears Ears buttes near Bluff and to federal management elsewhere in the state, so the Outdoor Industry Association will continue searching for a new home, Roberts said in a news release after the call.
The governor’s spokesman Paul Edwards said the conversation was frustrating and the governor offered to negotiate with the industry. But the groups maintained their ultimatum, asking for the state to immediately back off its opposition to Bears Ears.
“They did not want to have further discussions in that direction,” Edwards said.
Last week, Herbert said the executives have misunderstood him.
He said he wants to see the land remain open to a variety of uses, including energy development, and contends the state has poured millions of dollars into preserving mountains and mesas owned by the federal government.
Outdoor Retailer organizers had already started requesting bids from other potential host cities after its fall 2018 show, they announced days after the Republican governor signed a legislative resolution urging President Donald Trump to undo the Bears Ears National Monument 300 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Also encouraging relocation, clothing company Patagonia said it would boycott the show as long as it remained in Utah.
“There's only one way to show support for public lands and the enormous economy they support in Utah and across the country: Don’t sell them to the highest bidder, keep them in the hands of the American people,” Corley Kenna, Patagonia director of communications, said in a statement.
Herbert had called Patagonia’s exit a “political ploy,” but said he was eager to sit down with retailers to smooth things over.
About 30 outdoors executives this week had sent a letter to Herbert and other Utah lawmakers, saying they also would urge the convention to relocate if the state did not back off the push against the monuments and a broader initiative to put federal lands in state control.
Herbert and other Utah officials have said the new federal land declared by former President Barack Obama is too big and treads into territory where local residents don’t want more protections for the 1.35 million acres surrounding Bears Ears. But a group of five Native American tribes fought for the monument for years, calling on the Obama Administration to protect the area rich in Navajo spirituality and ancient artifacts.