The outdoor industry protests over Utah’s unpopular campaign to wrest American public lands under state or private control are gathering momentum: On Thursday, Arc’teryx announced that it will join Patagonia in pulling out of the biannual Outdoor Retailer trade show, held in Salt Lake City. Instead the company will donate an additional $150,000 over the next three years to the Conservation Alliance’s Public Lands Defense Fund.
Three other brands also announced today that they’re boycotting the show: Peak Design, Kammock, and Power Practical.
Jon Hoerauf, president of Arc’teryx wrote in a blog post late Thursday evening, “The outdoor industry has an obligation to protect the wild places that are important to our consumers. Since 2014, we’ve been part of the efforts to protect Bears Ears, supporting local grassroots organizations working on a legislated solution. More recently Arc’teryx has helped to fund Friends of Cedar Mesa and Utah Dine Bike Yah, as they work on a national monument designation. I was proud to join my peers in the outdoor industry in sending a letter to President Obama asking him to protect this landscape in Southern Utah, which is cherished by our community of climbers, hikers and outdoors enthusiasts. Protecting public lands for future generations is a critical part of our brand values and we will use our influence in a way that is consistent with those values.”
News about the Outdoor Retailer trade show is normally inside baseball stuff—consumers generally only hear about the show when the media trumpets new gear introductions in January and August. But the show brings an estimated $45 million to Utah’s economy, and industry leaders have attempted for years to use that impact as leverage to convince Utah to be friendlier to human-powered outdoor recreation and the conservation of federal lands.
The state has been anything but. Just in the last few weeks, Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill in Congress to force the sale or giveaway of 3.4 million acres of federal lands throughout the West, a move that opinion surveys show the public strongly opposes. In the face of massive protest, Chaffetz said he would withdraw the bill, but a number of other bills antagonistic to federal public lands are still alive in the House. Within the state, Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill urging President Donald Trump to rescind the national monument status for the Bears Ears region in the southern part of the state. Shortly before leaving office, President Barack Obama created the 1.3-million-acre monument using the Antiquities Act, a frequent tool of presidents who want to preserve land.
The Antiquities Act was used by President Bill Clinton in 1996 to create the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a move that still rankles many in Utah, who complain it was done without local input. With Bears Ears, the Obama administration, including Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel, met frequently with Utahns as they were considering establishing the monument, and Native Americans as well. That wasn’t enough to satisfy.
It’s been a busy week for the watchers of the Outdoor Retailer show, which is owned by Emerald Exhibitions, the largest operator of trade shows in the country: On Monday, the industry announced it was considering moving the show outside Utah after 2018 because of Utah’s stance on public lands. For Patagonia, and now Arc’teryx, stronger action needs to be taken, and not in two years.
In January, when the industry was in Salt Lake for the winter show and “stay or go” was a hot topic, Patagonia founder and owner Yvon Chouinard wrote an essay called The Outdoor Industry Loves Utah; Does Utah Love the Outdoor Industry? In it, he wrote, “The outdoor industry creates three times the amount of jobs than the fossil fuels industry, yet the governor has spent most of his time in office trying to rip taxpayer-owned lands out from under us and hand them over to drilling and mining companies…I say enough is enough. If Governor Herbert doesn’t need us, we can find a more welcoming home.”
On Thursday, writing from Washington, D.C., Outdoor Industry Association executive director Amy Roberts urged solidarity, writing, “Now is not the time to splinter and retreat down our own individual paths. Only a few of our largest brands and retailers have the resources to engage policymakers on their own. Our industry is more powerful when we come together to send a unified message in support of our public lands.”
The message might be unified, even if the actions aren’t. Arc’teryx and Patagonia are among the highest-visibility brands at the OR show, and their booths are among the largest in the Salt Palace convention center. Will other giants such as The North Face and Columbia join them? It’s been an eventful week…but it’s not over yet.
Photo by Ged Carroll
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