Saturday, February 18, 2017

Utah Pays the Price For Opposing Public Lands

After a months-long standoff with Utah over its opposition to the creation of Bears Ears National Monument, Outdoor Retailer announced that it is canceling its biennial trade show in Utah and moving it to another state.

Outdoor Retailer, a trade association which represents over 1,200 companies such as Patagonia, North Face, and REI, has staged the world's largest outdoor retail show in Salt Lake City for the last two decades.   Each year, the show draws hundreds of brands and suppliers, and roughly 40,000 visitors. It generates $45 million for the Salt Lake economy.

In its announcement, the Outdoor Industry Association, stated that Republican governor Gary Herbert had a different perspective regarding the future of public lands-- one it feels is “bad for our American heritage” and its members.  The association went on to say, “It is important to our membership, and to our bottom line that we partner with states and elected officials who share our views on the truly unique American value of public lands for the people and conserving our outdoor heritage for the next generation.”

A spokesman for the Utah Governor said Outdoor Retailer’s decision is “offensive” and “reflects a gross ingratitude” for the city of Salt Lake.   “It perpetuates the false narrative that Utah . . . is somehow hostile to public lands.”

70% of Utah territory is made up of federally-owned land, and the state has a long history of opposing federal ownership of its territory and resisting the U.S. government's effort to regulate recreation and grazing rights on public lands.  In 2012, Utah passed legislation that sought to require the Federal government to grant the majority of public land in the state back to the state of Utah by 2014.  It is very likely that deadline will be forever ignored by the federal government, as even University of Utah legal scholars concluded that “Utah has no legal right to the land it demands, and the federal government has the constitutional authority to retain lands in federal ownership."

The American Lands Council (ALC), a leading group in the fight to take back federal lands, is headquartered in South Jordon, Utah.  The ALC was founded by Republican Utah State Representative Ken Ivory.  Ivory soon stepped down from the ALC to lead a new anti-public land group called Free the Lands.  The National Federal Lands Conference, which also opposes federal control of public lands, is headquartered in Ogden, Utah. 

In December, Republican Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes moved to sue the federal government after President Obama set aside nearly 1.4 million acres of federal land  to create Bears Ears National Monument.  After the presidential election Reyes and Governor Herbert urged Trump to undo it.

Major outdoor retailers vowed to take action if the Republican leaders refused to stop challenging the designation.  “It would be totally unprecedented to rescind a national monument and designated public lands,” Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said at the time. “That, to me, is frankly a horror that anyone would be considering that.”

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