Public lands dispute costs Utah a major trade show

Public lands dispute costs Utah a major trade show
© Cameron Lancaster

Dozens of corporations specializing in outdoor gear and recreation are pulling a flagship trade show out of Salt Lake City after state leaders reaffirmed calls to transfer federal public lands into state hands.

Utah officials were enraged when the Obama administration, in the waning days of its tenure, designated the new Bears Ears National Monument under the Antiquities Act.

Gov. Gary Herbert (R) and Rep. Rob BishopRob BishopThe Hill's Whip List: 21 GOP no votes on new ObamaCare replacement bill Repeal of Obama drilling rule stalls in the Senate Congress should stop trying to diminish public lands MORE (R), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, have worked to reverse that decision.

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The group of businesses, led by executives from REI, North Face and Patagonia, held a call Thursday with Herbert to ask him to drop efforts to block the new park and to abandon a campaign against the Antiquities Act. That law, passed in 1906, gives a president the power to designate national landmarks on federal property for protection.

Herbert, the group said, refused to change his mind.

“It’s disappointing Gov. Herbert and the Utah congressional delegation are in a different place from Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington, D.C., and across the country,” said Amy Roberts, head of the Outdoor Industry Association, which organized the call.

As a consequence, Outdoor Retailer, the industry’s largest semi-annual trade show, will leave Salt Lake City after 20 years. The show, which attracts 40,000 visitors a year and contributes up to $45 million to Utah’s economy, will look for a new home after its summer 2018 edition.

Herbert’s office called the show’s decision to ignore future Utah bids “offensive.”

The decision “perpetuates the false narrative that Utah, a state that derives much of its inspiration and identity from its iconic public lands, a state that invests tens of millions of dollars into the protection of and access to its public lands, is somehow hostile to those public lands,” said Paul Edwards, Herbert’s deputy chief of staff. “It shows how a political agenda, rather than reason or merit, seems to have captured the decision-making at the Outdoor Industry Association.”

Addressing reporters at his monthly press conference Thursday, before the call took place, Herbert said Utah had been as good for the trade show as the trade show had been for the state.

“We’ve been a blessing to them, too. They’ve doubled or tripled over the last 20 years since they’ve been sited here in Utah,” Herbert said.

The trade show has used its economic heft as leverage for public policy changes before. In 2012, as the show considered finding a new home, Utah agreed to create the Office of Outdoor Recreation to promote outdoor tourism within its borders.

But Obama’s decision in December to designate Bears Ears, along with Gold Butte National Monument in neighboring Nevada, enraged Utah Republicans. Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchOvernight Finance: Inside Trump's tax plan | White House mulls order pulling out of NAFTA | New fight over Dodd-Frank begins GOP leaders, top tax writers: Trump principles will be 'critical guideposts' Senators push 'cost-effective' reg reform MORE called the move an “egregious abuse of executive power.” Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeObamaCare must be fixed before it collapses Trump signs order to end 'egregious abuse' of national monuments Trump takes aim at Obama monuments MORE renewed his push to rewrite the Antiquities Act, along with Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiTrump’s Army pick faces tough confirmation fight Republican Sen. Collins considering run for Maine governor in 2018 Alaska senators push bill to allow Arctic drilling MORE (R-Alaska).

Bishop, long a critic of the Antiquities Act, has asked the Trump administration to limit the size of Bears Ears, or to nix the new park altogether. 

But it’s not clear the Trump administration can act without Congress’s consent. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), President Trump’s nominee to head the Interior Department, said during his confirmation hearings he does not believe the Antiquities Act would allow a president to cut back an existing monument.