bears ears national monument
Valley of the Gods, UT, in Bears Ears National Monument; (photo/Paul Brady Photography)

As Utah Vies for Outdoor Retailer, Industry Advocates Call Governor’s Policies ‘Openly Hostile to Public Lands’

The Outdoor Retailer tradeshow’s contract with the City of Denver expires in 2022. As industry leaders consider bringing the show back to Salt Lake City, they issued a pointed statement to Utah Governor Spencer Cox.

As of 2017, Outdoor Retailer had been operating in Salt Lake City for 20 years. But after the state helped controversially rescind Obama-era protections for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, the industry responded.

Outdoor Retailer severed ties with Salt Lake City, moving the show to Denver. Outdoor Retailer was Utah’s largest tradeshow, and the move sucked roughly $45 million in annual commerce out of the state.

Fast forward 5 years and déjà vu has set in with the show’s current contract set to expire. President Biden restored protections last year after President Trump stripped the monuments of protected status in December 2017 (thanks partly to then-Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s pressure).

The Trump administration’s decision drastically reduced the monuments’ size; Bears Ears shrank by 85%, and Grand Staircase-Escalante decreased by half. President Biden’s designations restore each monument to nearly its original size. Now, Governor Cox’s administration investigates whether the Biden Administration violated the Antiquities Act in doing so.

The state seeks the ability to open the protected lands for mining. On December 9, Governor Cox met with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, whose department manages public lands.

“We hear reports that as we move to clean energy, and specifically batteries for electric vehicles, that by the year 2025 we’re going to be running short of copper and some of these other critical minerals,” Cox said. He then asserted that many such minerals such as cobalt, lithium, and magnesium come from Utah mines.

As the show looks for a new home, advocacy groups The Conservation Alliance and Outdoor Alliance sent Cox a letter. They call on Governor Cox and the state to cease their efforts.

Utah Lobbies OR to Return, Sues to Dismantle Bears Ears

“We respectfully call on you to abandon all efforts to erode protections for Grand Staircase Escalante, Bears Ears, and other Utah public lands, and instead join us in our efforts to build a strong economic vision for the West that includes conservation and outdoor recreation,” the letter states.

On December 4, Attorney General Sean Reyes announced that the state would begin investigating whether Biden’s new boundaries were constitutional. To do it, his office contracted Virginia-based law firm Consovoy McCarthy (which consistently represents conservative interests, including many of former President Trump’s). He stated that the firm will “assist with research and analysis about potential litigation” focusing on the Antiquities Act.

The Act gives presidents to authority to designate monuments based on cultural, natural, or scientific significance. The state has not yet formally filed a lawsuit, and details of what one might look like are unavailable.

As legal proceedings that seek to shrink the National Monuments get underway, Cox has simultaneously lobbied the trade show to return to Salt Lake City.

The letter points to the contradiction as a threat to the show’s viability.

In 2018, Patagonia, Arc’teryx, and other brands pulled out of the show in protest. If Outdoor Retailer does land back in Salt Lake City, the letter says, the same thing will likely happen again.

moab bears ears indian creek
Patagonia Leads Bears Ears Coalition, Sues Trump Administration
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Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante hold some of Utah’s most iconic outdoor locations, like Canyonlands and Indian Creek.

“[I]t would run contrary to the outdoor industry’s values to return the show to a state that is openly hostile to public lands and waters, and that’s working to undermine two iconic national monuments,” it says.

“If the state continues pursuing this lawsuit, leading brands and organizations in our industry will refuse to participate in a Utah-based show, even at the risk of compromising the show’s future viability.”

Outdoor Retailer Outlook

Whether Outdoor Retailer will return to Utah or not remains to be seen. The last show under the current contract will run in Denver from June 9 to 11.

If Outdoor Retailer ends up back in Salt Lake, the advocacy groups’ letters will likely prove prophetic unless the state complies with its request. Together, The Conservation Alliance and Outdoor Alliance represent more than 270 outdoor businesses, including heavyweights like Patagonia, The North Face, and REI.

Ultimately, the groups’ message is straightforward: “Protect our lands if you want our business.”

Your move, Governor Cox. Read the letter in full here.

Sam Anderson
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Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.