By Scott Taylor
For two decades, the world’s largest trade exhibition of outdoor gear manufacturers, the Outdoor Retailer (OR) show, has met twice a year at the Salt Palace Convention Center, bringing an estimated 50,000 people and $45 million to Salt Lake City and the state of Utah. But this year will be the last, as Emerald Exhibitions, the company that owns and promotes the show, says it will not consider SLC for future shows due to Utah’s stance on federal public lands.
Utah’s Republican leadership, in a state known for its natural beauty and vast outdoor recreation opportunities, much of which are on federal public land, has become one of the most vocal and active proponents of removing that land from federal control and turning it over to the states. Governor Gary Herbert, Senator Orrin Hatch, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, and Representative Jason Chaffetz have led the movement to switch control of millions of acres of public land from federal to state control. (Chaffetz introduced HR621, a bill to sell off and “dispose of 3.3 million acres of public land deemed useless to taxpayers.” Hunters and sportsmen deluged him with disapproval, so he announced on Instagram that he would withdraw the bill. However, as of Feb. 10, it has not been withdrawn.) Hatch, Herbert, and Bishop have made it clear that they intend to seek the reversal of President Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears area in southern Utah as a National Monument. Obama used the Antiquities Act, an act signed into law by none other than Teddy Roosevelt, to protect over 500 million acres as national monuments.
“The greatest good for the greatest number also applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction,” said Roosevelt. “Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generation, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations.”
Following the lead of Patagonia—one of the most recognizable and respected outdoor manufacturers in the world—other outdoor gear manufacturers, including Arc’teryx and Utah-based Black Diamond and Kuhl, said they would also forego the OR show if it was held in Utah. “As an industry, we’re all about defending public lands,” said Patagonia’s CEO Rose Marcario. “Because of the hostile environment they have created and their blatant disregard for Bears Ears National Monument and other public lands…Patagonia will no longer attend the OR show in Utah.”
Peter Metcalf, the founder of climbing gear maker Black Diamond followed suit. “Utah is the birther of the most anti-stewardship, anti-public-lands policy in the country…If we can’t affect policy by staying, then the next step is leaving.”
But the puffy jacket, fleece-wearing, Subaru-driving crowd isn’t the only population up in arms over the anti-federal land movement. The Carhartt- and camo-clad, and truck-driving crowd are also speaking up, touting the heritage and benefits of public land availability for hunters and fishermen, and voicing their disapproval of recent “takeovers” of federal land.
Mark Heckert, from Washington, a member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (a group dedicated to keeping public lands accessible and public), speaking about the incident at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, said “It’s a bald-faced grab at the lands that belong to all of the people of the United States …what that means is, pretty soon they’ll be saying ‘you can’t come on this land to hunt because it’s ranch land and it’s not safe for the cattle’…”
Ed Putnam, another member of BHA, from Oregon, said “[For] public lands, there needs to be a balance in how we manage them and who has the right to use that land. This [takeover] was a bad idea.”
Hal Herring, writing in Field and Stream, said “Our national monuments provide some of the greatest hunting opportunities in the world. They will remain so as long as hunters get involved, and stay involved, in the public process.” And hunters are doing just that. It was hunters from Utah who convinced Jason Chaffetz to withdraw his bill, and hunting industry manufacturers like Weatherby, Yeti, Hoyt, Kifaru and Mountain Ops, as well as retailers such as Sportsman’s Warehouse, have joined in, even sponsoring country music concerts in support of public land at hunting industry trade shows.
One of the culprits targeted by outdoor groups as driving Utah’s anti-public-lands policy is the oil and gas industry. That industry was, unsurprisingly, a major campaign contributor to Gov. Herbert and Rep. Chaffetz, and the largest contributor to Bishop’s campaign. Patagonia says outdoor recreation in Utah amounts to $12 billion and 122,000 jobs, while oil and gas industries in Utah account for only $2.4 billion and less than 7,000 jobs. The Salt Lake Tribune estimated that if Utah were to take over control of federal lands, it could gross $311 million per year. However, it would cost the state $280 million to manage those lands, leaving it with a net income of $31 million. Currently, under federal management, Utah receives $185 million/yr for these lands. That’s $154 million more than it would take in under its own control. The Tribune dubbed the effort to do away with federal control “quixotic.”
What does any of this mean to Idaho? Idaho has 16 million acres of public land, and the movement to transfer that to state control has caught on here, too. But states rarely have the financial resources to manage those lands when it comes to fire control, road maintenance, law enforcement, etc. If there were major forest fire outbreaks, pest invasions or other natural disasters, it’s estimated that Idaho could face a possible $111 million dollar deficit if it tried to manage the lands that are now under federal control. And if that happens, the state’s only solution will be to start selling off those lands to the highest bidder, meaning they probably won’t be available to the public anymore. Examples of this can already be seen in the proposed IDFG sell-off of a stand of large, mature red cedars on Sunnyside Peninsula, and Oregon’s planned sale of Elliot State Forest.
Finding a common cause among the many and varied groups that have an interest in keeping recreation lands open to the public has created an unlikely, albeit unspoken, alliance among outdoor enthusiasts. Although the backpacking, hiking, granola-eating crowd and the hunting and fishing community have often found themselves on opposite sides of land use issues, this is one issue Montana governor Steve Bullock says all outdoor users can get behind. “Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or vegetarian, these lands belong to you.”