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Backlash to Anti-Public Lands Policy Grows

Controversy over the Bears Ears National Monument has cost Utah its coveted spot as host of the Outdoor Retailer trade show. Nevada cities may bid for it. (Josh Ewing)
Controversy over the Bears Ears National Monument has cost Utah its coveted spot as host of the Outdoor Retailer trade show. Nevada cities may bid for it. (Josh Ewing)
February 21, 2017

CARSON CITY, Nev. – A backlash against policy assaults on public land is growing, and now, a conference of outdoor retailers has decided to leave Utah over that state's position on the issue.

The Outdoor Industry Association, which has held its giant trade shows in Salt Lake City for two decades, says it will seek a new home for its Outdoor Retailer shows in 2018. It's a direct response to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's opposition to the newly-created Bears Ears National Monument.

Ron Hunter is the environmental activism manager for retailer Patagonia, a member company of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) that runs the conference. He said his company is pulling out of the next two OIA shows, still under contract to take place in Salt Lake City later this year.

"We believe that public lands should stay in public hands," Hunter said. "And perhaps, we don't know, but the state delegation and the governor want to privatize some of that land, sell it off to oil and gas developers, let's say. And we think there's a higher value to these public lands than that."

Utah Rep. Rob Bishop has led the charge to get Congress to transfer federal public land into state hands.

Officials from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and its counterpart in Reno have said they don't want to comment on the controversy, but are open to bidding to host the conference next year.

President Donald Trump's nominee for Interior Secretary, Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, has said if he is confirmed, one of his first trips will be to Bears Ears, which is sacred to local tribes, but also coveted by ranchers and oil and gas interests.

Hunter said Patagonia also objects to a proposal to shrink the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.

"We don't have a thriving business unless we have access to public lands, and we're afraid that in Utah, they're taking away people's ability to enjoy the outdoors," he added. "And we don't want to be in a state that does that, we want to be in a state that protects and celebrates their public lands."

The new national monuments also are attracting more attention from travel buffs. Both Gold Butte in Nevada and Bears Ears in Utah have just been named destinations for "epic road trips" by Zipcar.com.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NV