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Leading U.S. outdoor retailers are again threatening to pull their twice-a-year trade show out of Salt Lake City, this time in an ultimatum to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert demanding he reverse course on key public-lands policies.
About 30 executives, including REI's Jerry Stritzke and The North Face's Scott Baxter, signed the letter sent this week to Herbert, urging him to either stand up for public lands or risk industry leaders using their clout to ensure that Outdoor Retailers decamps when its contract with the Salt Palace Convention Center expires next year.
The state's political leadership, the letter said, has spent "years championing a set of policies that we interpret to be a state and national attack on the sanctity of public lands, public access and ownership of them, and how our nation manages and protects them."
The Utah Legislature's move to diminish or repeal two national monument also appears to be pushing the rift. Lawmakers' first order of business this session has been to pass resolutions aimed at erasing or diminishing the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. The Staircase resolution is awaiting the governor's signature.
A spokeswoman for Herbert said Tuesday that he'd received the executives' letter but had no immediate comment. The Republican governor had earlier called a proposed boycott of the OR show "a political ploy" that overlooked state efforts to protect public lands and access to them.
Though they praised some of his more recent statements, outdoor industry leaders said they remain skeptical of the Herbert's assurances given Utah's agenda to promote greater local control over public land with an eye toward prioritizing extractive uses. Problematic policies include attempts to strip federal land agencies of law-enforcement authority, transfer 31 million acres of public land to the state, gut the Antiquities Act, and starve land agencies of funding, according to the letter
"These are real and authentic threats to stewardship of public lands. These lands are a birthright to every citizen of the United States. They should be protected," said Nazz Kurth, president of Petzl America, headquartered in West Valley City. "We feel it is an attack that has to be met with a strong message."
The industry letter, which Kurth also signed, describes state leaders' stance as antithetical to outdoor recreation and Utah's enviable quality of life. The new statement echoes one made by Black Diamond Equipment founder Peter Metcalf, who insisted in an op-ed that the outdoor industry is tacitly supporting Utah's anti-conservation agenda by not moving the OR show, which Metcalf himself lured to Utah two decades ago.
The governor has repeatedly stressed that his administration values the outdoor industry and the state's scenic landscapes, which support a tourism economy that generates $8.2 billion in spending, according to a new University of Utah report.
"Utahns love our exceptional public lands," Herbert wrote in an op-ed published Sunday in The Salt Lake Tribune. "We love their grandeur and beauty. We love the opportunities they create for solitude and recreation. We agree that these lands must be protected."
But considering the positive and growing economic impacts of tourism and outdoor recreation, officials in the outdoor industry say they remain baffled why Utah's elected leaders ignore those interests.
The industry claims it supports $12 billion of economic activity and 120,000 jobs in Utah. The OR show itself generate $40 million in director spending.
"That impact is vastly underestimated," Kurth said. "I want my children and my kids to kids to experience the beauty of these wild lands. I don't want to see oil rigs dotting the landscape.
"Extraction is boom and bust," he continued. "But someone who comes to raft and camp, they come again and again."
In his op-ed, Herbert also said he "forward to partnering more closely with our outdoor recreation community" to discover the best approaches to preservation and access of public lands.
But Herbert also wrote he cannot ignore evidence that federal land management is failing rural communities and the health of the land. The state aims to improve stewardship by asserting greater control, according to his op-ed, and has consistently invested in improving the land.
The industry leaders and the governor's office have now exchanged invitations to sit down and discuss their differences and sources said a meeting could happen as soon as Thursday.
Brian Maffly covers public lands for The Salt Lake Tribune. Maffly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-257-8713.