Outdoor gear companies take on Trump

Outdoor gear companies take on Trump
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The outdoor recreation industry is getting bold in fighting President Trump’s environmental agenda.

Companies that make and sell outdoor gear, such as Patagonia, REI and The North Face, are forcefully criticizing Trump for trying to roll back former President Obama’s actions on protecting public land and fighting climate change.

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Patagonia, which has long been politically active, has raised the specter of a lawsuit against Trump if he tries to roll back national monuments that Obama created under the Antiquities Act.

Corporations always run the risk of alienating customers when they step into the political sphere. But to the outdoor industry, which has a customer and employee base that skews liberal, the need to protect the environment outweighs the potential risks.

The companies also depend more directly on public lands, where their customers use their hiking equipment, camping gear, high-tech clothing and other products.

“It’s clear that the Trump administration has put out some executive orders that are absolutely not the right way to go in terms of the environment that we all care about and all rely on,” said Hans Cole, director of environmental campaigns and advocacy at Patagonia.

“And we’re working hard to push back against those that we think are particularly egregious attacks on those fronts.”

To the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), it’s important to make the case to the Trump administration, Republicans in Congress and other policymakers that conservation is good for business.

The industry is betting that a businessman president can understand those arguments and that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, an avid outdoorsman, would agree.

“Sometimes there’s a narrative out there when you preserve for recreation or conservation, that the trade-off is a loss of wages, a loss of jobs,” said Amy Roberts, the OIA’s executive director.

“We’ve been focused on making an argument that these places support vibrant recreation economies and jobs in their communities.”

In an executive order last month, Trump asked Zinke to review all large national monuments going back 21 years, with an emphasis on two major monuments in Utah: Bears Ears, created in December by Obama, and Grand Staircase-Escalante, created by President Bill ClintonBill ClintonTop Oversight Dem pushes back on Uranium One probe Bill Clinton hits Trump, tax reform plan in Georgetown speech The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE in 1996.

Republicans argue that those monument designations and many others hurt industries that depend on the land, including fossil fuel extraction, ranching and commercial fishing.

“The previous administration used a 100-year-old law known as the Antiquities Act to unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control ... eliminating the ability of the people who actually live in those states to decide how best to use that land,” Trump said at a ceremony to sign the order.

“We’re returning power back to the people.”

The OIA, Patagonia, REI and The North Face all denounced the order as an attack on public lands. 

“The order itself does not rescind existing national monuments, but it does leave that open as an option, along with reducing or resizing them,” said Jerry Stritzke, REI’s president. “That is a threat to the integrity of our public lands, which millions of Americans see as national treasures.”

Zinke’s predecessor, Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellOvernight Regulation: Senate panel approves driverless car bill | House bill to change joint-employer rule advances | Treasury to withdraw proposed estate tax rule | Feds delaying Obama methane leak rule Overnight Energy: Dems take on Trump's chemical safety pick GOP chairman probes Zinke’s charter plane use MORE, was previously REI’s president. She oversaw most of Obama’s major monument designations that Trump is targeting.

The activism comes as corporate America as a whole is grappling with how to handle Trump.

Major technology companies, including Facebook and Google, fought Trump’s attempts to ban entry to the U.S. for people from several Muslim-majority countries. Manufacturers, meanwhile, have reached out to Trump and praised him for policies such as cutting regulations.

The outdoor industry is also going beyond Trump’s monument policies in fighting him. They’re lobbying and advocating against his proposed double-digit cuts to Interior’s budget and his moves to undo Obama’s climate change rules, among other actions.

“We are extremely disappointed in the Trump administration’s anti-climate executive order that really rolls back all of our country’s climate protections and the progress that we’ve made over the last 10 years,” said Lindsay Bourgoine, advocacy manager at Protect Our Winters, a group that pushes for climate change policies on behalf of winter recreation companies, such as ski resorts and clothing makers, that fear milder winters.

Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council, said the recreation community needs to recognize that broader land protections often shut out other industries.

“The frustration from our members out there is that they continually feel like the recreation community continually disregards their input in the process,” he said. “There are industries that are dependent on that land, and there are communities that have been built around interaction with those public lands.”

Lane’s group is part of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which represents cattle ranchers and strongly supports Trump’s executive order.

“If you live in a condo in downtown Salt Lake City and you drive out to ride your mountain bike or hike or hunt or do whatever, you may or may not have a full appreciation of all the things that go into maintaining that land and that community once you go back home,” he said.

Companies face real risks when they decide to take on political causes and can anger customers or employees, said Daniel Korschun, a business professor at Drexel University who studies political advocacy by corporations.

But for corporations that espouse certain ideals or causes, it can often be more dangerous to stay silent, he argued.

“When those companies abstain from making comments about political developments, customers may find it hypocritical, and they will actually be more upset with the company than if it had taken a stand,” Korschun said.

Companies like Patagonia and The North Face market themselves as caring for the environment and sustainability, so they have to walk the walk.

“The bar for these companies on sustainability matters is much higher,” he said.

For the rest of the conservation community, big businesses have become a crucial ally in advocacy campaigns like fighting to keep federal land public.

“I think it’s an extremely useful voice to have,” said Whit Fosburgh, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

“The times have changed in Washington, and we can’t just go in and make the case for why something is good for the environment, for fish and wildlife, for hikers, for hunters. We have to go in and make an economic case.”