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Utah’s Stance on Public Lands Could Cost it the Outdoor Retailer Show

Utah’s antagonistic relationship toward public lands has prompted Patagonia, REI, The North Face and more than two dozen other companies to threaten to boycott Outdoor Retailer should it return to Salt Lake City.

The Conservation Alliance—a group of more than 270 companies that funds grassroots environmental organizations—issued a statement Monday urging Emerald X to not move the Outdoor Retailer trade show to Utah. Thirty companies attached their names to the statement, including REI Co-op, Patagonia Inc., The North Face, Public Lands, Keen Footwear, Smartwool, Timberland, Arc’teryx, Scarpa and La Sportiva.

“We’ve joined together in stating that we will not support or attend a trade show event in Utah so long as its elected officials continue attacks on national monuments and public lands protections,” the companies wrote. “Industry leaders are expressing their support for the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition [BEITC] and its longstanding efforts to protect the homeland of the Tribes and Pueblos with cultural ties to the Bears Ears landscape, as well as the overwhelming majority of the outdoor industry and the American public.”

Though it wasn’t involved in The Conservation Alliance’s statement, the BEITC—a consortium of tribal nations who are united around conserving the Bears Ears cultural landscape—is generally supportive of those pushing to keep Outdoor Retailer out of Utah. “We’re certainly supportive of those people that support us,” Pat Gonzales-Rogers, the BEITC’s executive director, told Sourcing Journal.

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Gonzales-Rogers described Utah’s campaign to host Outdoor Retailer, while at the same time not supporting public lands—spaces where outdoor retail products are used—as “a kind of duplicity.”

“To me, this is the proverbial, ‘I want to be vegetarian, but can I eat this big hot dog?’” he said. “You cannot be a supporter of outdoor activities and the byproduct—which brings money into your state—the outdoor industry, and not support the advancement of public lands…. Their long history of public lands and the tribes in their state is to reduce the footprint of public lands. And so, in that way, we all have a profound problem with that.”

Outdoor Retailer’s decision to exit Salt Lake City in 2017 after two decades, though framed as a broader reaction to Utah politicians’ sentiment toward public lands, was precipitated by a resolution passed by the state’s government urging then-President Donald Trump to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument. Four days after then-Gov. Gary Herbert signed the measure, Patagonia announced it would no longer attend the Outdoor Retailer show in Utah in direct response.

Less than two weeks later, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) announced it had held a call with the governor and the leadership of Patagonia, The North Face, REI and Outdoor Retailer. During the call, the OIA asked Gov. Herbert to, among other things, reverse his support for selling public lands and rescinding the Bears Ears area as a National Monument. “Unfortunately, what we heard from Governor Herbert was more of the same,” the OIA said at the time.

With no progress made, the association announced it would support efforts relocate Outdoor Retailer. In July 2017, Denver was dubbed the trade show’s new home. In December 2017, President Trump shrank Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and cut another Utah monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante, in half. A coalition of groups, including Patagonia, was fighting the move in the courts when President Joe Biden reversed his predecessor’s actions in October.

With Emerald X’s contract with the Colorado Convention Center set to expire in June, the trade show operator has been exploring other potential locations. In a survey sent to attendees last year, Emerald floated the possibility of returning to Salt Lake City or heading to a new city like Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla. or Anaheim, Calif.

Marisa Nicholson, senior vice president and show director at Outdoor Retailer, said Tuesday that no decision around future dates or locations had yet been made. “We look forward to sharing our thoughts in the coming days,” she added. Last month, Nicholson told Footwear News that Outdoor Retailer hoped to release information on its future home following the Jan. 26-28 Snow Show.

“We have been in ongoing conversations with many across our industry and are taking all input and perspectives into consideration, including responses from recent surveys—we appreciate the passion and respect everyone’s point of view,” Nicholson said in a statement. “As we continue the process of evaluating all possible and realistic options, we remain thoughtful in our deliberations. Our goal is to host a vibrant event that not only reflects today’s new normal, but also presents an engaging event that draws more people into this community in ways that are authentic and affordable.”

Politicians from Colorado and Utah have both lobbied for the distinction of hosting Outdoor Retailer in the years ahead. After calling on Emerald X to keep Outdoor Retailer in Colorado last month, Democratic Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis released a statement to the same effect Monday. In their release, the politicians called specific attention to the state leadership’s support for the efforts of Colorado’s Ute Mountain Ute Tribe to protect Bears Ears as a National Monument.

“Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry is crucial to our economy and our way of life,” the trio said in a joint statement. “Today’s announcement from the outdoor recreation industry and its top leaders underscores that the Outdoor Retailer Show belongs in Colorado. We stand with the outdoor recreation community to support an inclusive and meaningful outdoor recreation gathering that will always have a home in the Centennial State.”

In September, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox released a video directly addressed to Outdoor Retailer in which he touted Salt Lake City’s renovated airport and a new Hyatt Regency hotel that is being built adjacent to the Salt Palace Convention Center.

“And we’re working with key stakeholders in the Department of the Interior to establish sustainable ways to manage Bears Ears National Monument and other cherished public lands,” Cox claimed.

Ultimately, President Biden restored the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in October. In Gov. Cox’s response to the move, the Utah politician said the decision was “disappointing, though not surprising.” The governor said he had “consistently offered to work with the Biden administration” and “expected and hoped for closer collaboration between our state and national leaders.”

The BEITC saw little of this supposed desire for outreach. Gonzales-Rogers said there was an “initial overture” from state officials that they could provide a legislative solution with “attributes that one could consider bipartisan,” but that it ultimately didn’t go anywhere.

“We’re always open to having a kind of a discourse, but the discourse has to be fair,” Gonzales-Rogers said. “The only thing that we asked, really, was that principals be involved—i.e. the actual politicians, the governor, Sen. [Mitt] Romney, Rep. [John] Curtis, Sen. [Mike] Lee, so on and so forth—and that they submit to us in writing what they propose.”

These “fairly straightforward” requests were never met, Gonzales-Rogers said.

“They proceeded [with] this ruse, without ever submitting anything in writing,” Gonzales-Rogers added. “It is not the way that really is characteristic if you’re serious. If you’re serious, they would have had an actual written kind of proposal of the legislation, as well as a summary of it, and they never got to that. And so, at that point, we decided in our leadership, that we needed to walk away, that they were not serious, and they were not handling it in a serious manner.”