Utah

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Outdoor Companies Fight for Freedom of Public Lands

22 Feb, 2017

By: Michael Popke
Utah Becomes Battleground

For years, the outdoors industry was considered by lawmakers in Washington, D.C., “as a loose collection of dirtbag climbers and tree huggers, rather than the thriving, tech-driven sector of the economy that it is,” according to a recent report on MensJournal.com.

But all that might be changing. In January, manufacturers of outdoor apparel and equipment, including Patagonia and Black Diamond, made continued participation in the twice-a-year Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City a lobbying tool in an attempt to dissuade Utah lawmakers from transferring 31 million acres of federally managed public land to the state.

“Politicians in Utah don’t seem to get that the outdoor industry — and their own state economy — depends on access to public lands for recreation,” Ron Hunter, Patagonia’s environmental activism manager, told MensHealth.com. “We are a huge industry. We should have a legitimate voice in how public lands are managed.”

“It feels like a tantrum rather than a chance to try to engage in something constructive,” responded Paul Edwards, deputy chief of staff for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.

“Over the last 20 years, Outdoor Retailer has been in Salt Lake City, generating more than $45 million in annual economic impact,” says Amy Roberts, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association, which held a conference call with Herbert on Feb. 16. “Further, the outdoor recreation economy in Utah adds more than $12 billion in direct spending, supports 122,000 jobs in the state, pays $3.6 billion in salaries and wages, and contributes more than $856 million in state and local tax revenue every year.”

For years, OIA officials have worked with Herbert and Utah’s congressional delegation to rectify differences regarding ownership, management and the economic importance of America’s public lands. And their voices are getting louder.

“Emboldened by their gripe with Utah, many outdoor companies are already taking their fight to the national stage, where a Republican Party in control of Congress and the White House has issued a blitz of orders and laws intent on radically changing public lands and environmental protections. Its platform calls for transferring public lands to states, rolling back environmental regulations, even doing away with the Environmental Protection Agency altogether,” writes Doug Schnitzspahn for MensHealth.com. “Suddenly, the outdoor industry has found its values under threat like never before, while at the same time waking up to the fact that it’s a major player during one of the most politically fraught moments in U.S. history. So far, it seems they’re willing to rise to the occasion.”

And Outdoor Retailer, in cooperation with Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, has really taken the fight outside, announcing that it will solicit proposals for venue locations for shows and events scheduled for November 2018 and beyond in states other than Utah. The Outdoor Retailer show will leave Salt Lake City after Summer 2018. In addition, Utah will be excluded from submitting a proposal during the relocation process.A February 16 call between Herbert and leadership from OIA, Patagonia, The North Face, REI and Outdoor Retailer failed to bring the two parties together on the thorny subject of public lands protection.

In an added wrinkle, “Emerald Expositions will also not extend the request for proposal to Utah for relocating the Interbike tradeshow,” said Darrell Denny, EVP of Emerald Expositions, which owns both Outdoor Retail and Interbike.

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