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Utah Sees Backlash on Public-Lands Policies

Controversy over Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments has cost Utah its coveted spot as host of the Outdoor Retailer trade show. (Wikimedia Commons)
Controversy over Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments has cost Utah its coveted spot as host of the Outdoor Retailer trade show. (Wikimedia Commons)
February 22, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY – At least three western states are vying to host a conference of outdoor retailers that's leaving Utah over its position on public lands. The Outdoor Industry Association, which has held its giant trade shows in Salt Lake City for two decades, says it will seek a new home for its Outdoor Retailer shows in 2018. It's a direct response to Utah Governor Gary Herbert's opposition to the newly created Bears Ears National Monument.

Ron Hunter is the environmental activism manager with the retailer Patagonia, a member company of the Outdoor Industry Association that runs the conference. He says his company is pulling out of the next two OIA shows, still under contract to take place in Salt Lake later this year.

"We believe that public lands should stay in public hands," he said. "And perhaps, we don't know, but the state delegation and the governor want to privatize some of that land, sell it off to oil and gas developers, let's say. And we think there's a higher value to these public lands than that."

Hunter says Patagonia also objects to a proposal to shrink the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. Claiming misuse of the Antiquities Act, last week Herbert called for federal legislation to reduce a Clinton-era move to protect the area's unique geological features and dinosaur fossils.

Utah Congressman Rob Bishop has led the charge to get Congress to transfer federal public land into state hands. And President Trump's nominee for Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, has said if he is confirmed, one of his first trips will be to Bears Ears - which is sacred to local tribes, but also coveted by oil and gas interests.

"We don't have a thriving business unless we have access to public lands, and we're afraid that in Utah, they're taking away people's ability to enjoy the outdoors," he added. "And we don't want to be in a state that does that, we want to be in a state that protects and celebrates their public lands."

Colorado, Montana and New Mexico have announced plans to try to win the hosting rights for the Outdoor Retailer trade show that brings some $45 million in direct spending each year. Outdoor recreation in Utah generates $12 billion in consumer spending annually, employs more than 122,000 Utahns, and brings in more than $850 million in state and local tax revenue.

Suzanne Potter/Eric Galatas, Public News Service - UT