Why we support the Outdoor Retailer Show's boycott of Utah

One major reason the Outdoor Retailer show is leaving Utah is the state's leaders' insistence on trying to reverse or shrink Bears Ears National Monument.

Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS).

Kudos to the Outdoor Retailer show for telling politicians it's time to stop exploiting and undermining Our Wild.

Patagonia, REI, The North Face and other major outdoor companies have loudly said "enough is enough" to the extreme land seizure movement and other anti-conservation policies. 

Turned off by the anti-public lands views of Utah Governor Gary Herbert and the state's congressional delegation—notably representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, who have lobbied President Trump to reverse Bears Ears National Monument--the biannual Outdoor Retailer show is officially leaving Utah.  

Why the Outdoor Retailer show is leaving Utah, and why we support them: 

  • Utah leadership has pressed to reverse Bears Ears National Monument, and even damage the ability to establish new national monuments in the future 

  • Utah politicians have been some of the biggest proponents of states seizing national public lands, which could lead some of them to be closed to the public or sold off 

Outdoor recreation is a huge deal—accounting for about $646 billion annually in consumer spending and 6.1 million direct jobs—and so is the Outdoor Retailer show, the largest event of its kind. For the last two decades, hundreds of outdoor brands, from small business outfitters to industry pioneers, have gathered in Salt Lake City to check out the latest advancements in outdoor gear. The show attracts an estimated 50,000 visitors and $45 million in spending each year. 

But while Outdoor Retailer show official acknowledged that Utah has been a "hospitable" host, the anti-conservation rhetoric and policies of the state's leaders have become impossible to ignore. On Feb. 16, representatives from the show and several companies met with Governor Herbert to try to reconcile these issues, to no avail. Ultimately, a statement from the Outdoor Industry Association noted, the governor's philosophy on public lands is "bad for our American heritage, and it's bad for our businesses."  

Over 90 percent of Utahns say they do at least one outdoor recreation activity annually, and outdoor recreation generates $12 billion in annual consumer spending in the state alone. It is well past time Utah's leaders stop pretending that the land and the outdoor industry operate independent of one another. We commend the Outdoor Retailer show for this principled stand, and for making it clear that if politicians continue to attack our wildlands, there will be real consequences. 

Will Utah leaders learn from their mistakes? 

Leaders in Utah had many opportunities to avoid this. In a recent open letter to President-elect Trump and Congress, more than 100 outdoor industry leaders called on elected officials to protect public lands and the integrity of the outdoor recreation industry. Earlier, the founder and former CEO of Black Diamond Equipment wrote in an op-ed that Utah’s political leadership must stop its assault on public lands—or else the Outdoor Retailer show should “leave the state in disgust.” The founder of Patagonia issued a press release in a similar vein. In the last week, several companies announced they would withdraw from the Outdoor Retailer show unless it left Utah. Now we see very clearly Gov. Herbert and legislators should have paid closer attention. 

The next test is rapidly approaching. In the coming weeks, Rep. Ryan Zinke is expected to be confirmed as the next Secretary of the Interior and travel to Utah to discuss the status of Bears Ears National Monument. It is widely presumed that this process is moving forward with an eye toward shrinking or reversing the monument at the behest of President Trump and politicians in the state. 

Utah just got a taste of the consequences for anti-public lands policies—specifically hostility toward Bears Ears National Monument. Polling has shown that 71 percent of registered Utah voters supported monument status for Bears Ears, and outdoor industry leaders also spoke out in support of the move, hailing its importance for the economy. Contrary to partisan griping from some legislators, 66 percent of voters in Utah support presidential authority to designate monuments in general. 

Will leaders take recent developments to heart and stand up for Our Wild? Stay tuned.