Outdoor Industry Threatens Utah Over Enviro Policy

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At the just-concluded Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake, the multibillion dollar outdoor industry issued blunt notice to Utah Governor Gary Herbert over the state’s fight to gain control over federal wilderness and BLM land: Be friendlier to the state’s environment and public lands or we’ll take the OR show and the millions it pumps into Utah elsewhere.

“Beyond setting bad national precedent, these policies threaten the recreation infrastructure that is fundamental to the outdoor industry…We have not and will not sit silently on threats to the nation’s recreation infrastructure,” said the letter to Herbert from the Outdoor Industry Association. Earlier this month, Peter Metcalf, CEO of Utah-based Black Diamond and one of the highest-profile industry environmental activists, told Herbert pretty much the same thing.

And all of this is in response to legislation the governor signed this past spring that threatens the federal government with legal action if land isn’t returned to Utah — land that the Utah state constitution explicitly says does not belong to the state, but to the citizens of the entire United States. Herbert and state house representatives who voted for the measure claim otherwise, that the federal government promised Utah that the land would one day revert to state control. And the entire fight, critics of the action claim, is moot: The move is unconstitutional and, additionally, Congress would stand in the way of any so-called Sagebrush Rebellion that would put control back into state hands.

Why the fight in the first place? Money.

Oil and gas lease revenue on BLM and other federal land would benefit Utah exclusively if the land reverted to state control.

Herbert and other lawmakers seem to be ignoring one source of revenue that already benefits Utah exclusively, the Outdoor Retailer trade show, to the tune of $40 million annually and 25,000 attendees. OR is already considering a move to Denver, Las Vegas, or Anaheim, California, because the Salt Palace Convention Center is running out of room for its growing exhibitors and Salt Lake City is short on hotel rooms, and this puts even more pressure on the state to accede to OIA’s demands. In the open letter to the governor (as well as in comments by the OIA board after a closed-door meeting with the governor this past week) it was fairly clear, even if not spelled out explicitly, that their threat to move a show that’s been in Salt Lake since the mid-1990s isn’t hollow.

Herbert argued that this was much ado about nothing, saying that because state control wouldn’t affect national parks or monuments in his state that the OIA has nothing to fear, but the OIA clearly understands the threat: Today it’s BLM land. But once that domino falls it’s mining adjacent to national parks and even within them, because there’s no federal legal precedent remaining to stop it.

Read the full letter from OIA below.

For fifteen years, the outdoor industry has proudly called Salt Lake City the home of Outdoor Retailer and we are deeply grateful to the Utahns that have supported and hosted the show. We know firsthand that Utah is an incredible place to do business and play.

Yet recently, the industry is often surprised and frustrated by Utah’s unfavorable positions on public lands policy. Beyond setting bad national precedent, these policies threaten the recreation infrastructure that is fundamental to the outdoor industry. Good economic policy cannot be divorced from bad public lands policy.

Of greatest concern is the governor’s lawsuit challenging the federal government over jurisdiction of the federal public lands and some road claims within national parks, monuments and wilderness areas. We have not and will not sit silently on threats to the nation’s recreation infrastructure.

It is disappointing that Utah – a place that draws outdoor businesses and enthusiasts alike – has not had a collaborative policy relationship with the outdoor industry. We would like to see that change. It should be the rare exception, not the rule, for Utah’s leadership and congressional delegation to announce or implement policies with little to no consultation or warning for the companies whose lives depend on a well-managed outdoors.

As a result, we view Governor Herbert’s first-ever meeting with the OIA board of directors as a positive step. We are encouraged that Governor Herbert committed to engage with the outdoor industry to create a shared vision of how the State of Utah can pursue public land policies that support the outdoor industry and the National Outdoor Recreation System upon which the health of Utah’s economy and our industry depend. We expect that the governor’s administration will pursue this collaboration with the outdoor industry within the next 30 days, and that the governor’s administration will provide specific recommendations by Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013.

Regarding the future of Outdoor Retailer, OIA, in partnership with owners Nielsen Expositions, is continuing productive conversations about the logistical needs of the trade show and greatly appreciates efforts to meet our challenges. While not the deciding factor in a location decision, the political climate in a host state is one of many elements that will be considered.

We remain open to finding solutions with Utah’s leadership that improve collaboration and ensure the continued growth and success of the state’s expanding outdoor recreation business community.

Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com. Photo of Salt Palace by Steve Casimiro

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  • Carson

    Michael – As much as the OIA would like you to think otherwise, they have no control over the present or future location of the OR Show. The show is not conducted “in partnership” between OIA and Nielsen. In fact, Nielsen owns 100% of the show and provides the brunt of OIA’s operating budget, via a yearly donation. Only about half of the companies that exhibit at OR are even OIA members. The decision to move will be Nielsen’s alone.

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