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Kyle Jenkins | 02.07.2017

In a statement of protest, the retail giant Patagonia recently announced that it would no longer participate in the Outdoor Retailer show as long as it is based in Salt Lake City. This is in response to Governor Herbert's recent resolution urging President Trump to remove a federal designation from the Bears Ears National Monument. Monument status was given to the 1.3 million acres of land in southeastern Utah only weeks earlier by President Obama, a move that was met with condemnation by Utah lawmakers who consider the designation an abuse of power in the waning hours of the president's final term. Monuments can be designated by a president under the Antiquities Act, which does not require congressional approval. 

Speaking about Governer Gary Herbert and other Utah elected officials, Rose Marcario, president and CEO of Patagonia, said in her press release that, “because of the hostile environment they have created and their blatant disregard for Bears Ears National Monument and other public lands, the backbone of our business, Patagonia will no longer attend the Outdoor Retailer show in Utah.”

The move is sure to send shock waves through the industry and could potentially put other brands on the spot to make similar moves. Black Diamond, a Utah-based equipment company, has joined Patagonia in voicing their displeasure with the atmosphere on Capitol Hill and have also called for the relocation of the convention in protest. This could be a crushing blow to business owners' hopes of keeping the show in Salt Lake. The press release from Patagonia also pointed out that Utah's politicians don't “value the economic benefits --$12 billion in consumer spending and 122,000 jobs-- that the outdoor recreation industry brings” to the local economy.

As someone who lives in Utah and who has attended the Outdoor Retailer show, I can attest to just how much money and people the convention brings in. Flights in and out of Salt Lake City are packed in the days leading up to and following the convention, and many local hotels are booked solid because the show attracts so many people from around the country and the globe. It has really helped to put Utah on the map before many knew they should be coming here. And one of the best things about this business model is the sustainability factor: Extracting minerals and oil makes a few people a lot of money, but when the commodity is gone, the locals are left with a ruined landscape. Business tourism, eco-tourism and outdoor recreation, on the other hand, are models that distribute revenue more effectively to local businesses and can be relied on for steady revenue for generations.

The complications of this issue must be acknowledged on all sides, however. Public lands in Utah are controversial for both economic and cultural reasons. The motto of Utah is literally just one word: "Industry." Yet almost 30 million acres, 42% of all the state, is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, not to mention all the state and national parks. Utah is second only to Nevada in terms of having the highest percentage of federally managed land. This means that there is less room for extraction than some other states permit, especially those states that are east of the Mississippi. Also, it must be noted that many of the remote parts of the state do not benefit from the tech, recreational, and real estate revenue from centers like Salt Lake City, Provo, and Park City. The young people in small communities often rely on jobs that many in larger cities unfairly consider a vestige of the past.

Other local residents, such as representatives of Utah Dine Bikeyah, a coalition of Native American tribes, say they will pursue legal action if President Trump rescinds the monument designation. They maintain they were not consulted when Governor Herbert issued the resolution, which passed with a 23-6 vote in the GOP-heavy state senate. For Native Americans, the Bears Ears National Monument means cultural preservation. Located near the Four Corners region, the Bears Ears area is historically and culturally relevant to the native population of the Colorado Plateau, and the monument contains thousands of ancestral sites. Some of the most iconic native ruins, such as the House on Fire and fantastic, naturally made geological formations such as Comb Ridge make the area a lesser-known but highly prized piece of the state. This land is sacred to the Native Americans, and in their eyes it is not meant for economic gain.

There are many different and sometimes conflicting interests in the state of Utah, as is true in any state. Often these interests are oversimplified as liberal and conservative, left and right. While the impulse may be to dig in and commit further to one side, the truth is that most people have some mix of the two sides of the spectrum. For instance, I haven't seen anything bring both sides together better than being outdoors in this beautiful country. Whether it is hunters, hikers, hippies, hipsters, or hoodoo lovers, it seems we all say "hi" to each other on the trail. We have to find a solution that allows people to have jobs and a place to take their family that is not ruined by the march of progress. I love meeting the wide variety of people that visit our public lands, and I feel it is one of our last bridges of communication between ever-widening and opposing world views.

Patagonia fired a warning shot at the lawmakers of Utah while hoping to speak their language regarding jobs and the economy. We know there is a lot of money behind the companies that would benefit from getting to drill federal land; is the money lost from the convention enough to sway the minds of the politicians? Maybe not, but if you combine that with the voices of the people who will be affected by Outdoor Retailer moving to another state, which the organizers have openly said they are considering, then perhaps Bears Ears and Outdoor Retailer will be here to stay. All sides of the argument should be addressed. People need jobs, and we also need fresh air, uncontaminated soil, a cultural heritage, and a future we can depend on. Are these considerations mutually exclusive? Patagonia has stated they will return to the show this summer if the Bears Ears designation remains. The decision on the Bears Ears Monument by President Trump may come as soon as the next few days. To find out more about Utah Dine Bikeyah and what you can do to protect the Bears Ears Monument, please visit their website.


Updated story - the entire Outdoor Retailer Show pulled out of Utah now.
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