DENVER – Members of the outdoor recreation community sent a message this week to state governments about endangering the public lands that the industry relies on.
That message: Shape up or we will ship out.
Representatives from the industry released statements Thursday declaring their intention to move the biannual Outdoor Retailer show, which has called Salt Lake City home for 20 years, out of Utah after having their concerns shrugged off during a conference call with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
The show, which has summer and winter events, is committed to Utah through its summer 2018 market. It draws thousands of companies, tens of thousands of customers and contributes more than $45 million to the state’s economy every year, Amy Roberts, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association, said in a release. The association represents more than 1,200 retailers and manufacturers.
Included with Roberts on the conference call was leadership from powerhouses in the industry, including The North Face, Patagonia and REI.
The concerns voiced about Utah’s policies include resolutions to rescind the newly declared Bears Ears National Monument and efforts by its congressional representatives to gut the 1906 Antiquities Act and transfer ownership of national public lands to the state.
The call came on the heels of a written ultimatum issued to Herbert on Tuesday by 30 outdoor recreation companies, including Cortez-based Osprey Packs, and raises issues about federal public lands and how states, including Colorado and its Legislature, view their protections and management.
The message Colorado House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder, said the message the industry sent should open the eyes of policymakers at the state and federal levels and shows it is willing to stand up for the lifestyle it promotes.
“Their customers are saying ‘We need you to reflect our values,’ and I think it is a really strong indication of where the public is, and that Utah is an outlier,” Becker said.
Shelly Silbert, executive director of Durango-based Great Old Broads for Wilderness, said her organization wholeheartedly supports the statement being made by the retailers.
“It should speak loudly to politicians, and the fact that Utah politicians aren’t listening tells me that they have a different agenda,” Silbert said.
In a political atmosphere where many Coloradans are questioning if their voices are being heard, this speaks volumes, said state Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail. “This is a clear example that the ‘keep public lands in public hands’ is resonating big time.”
Economic impact Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, said the economic importance of public lands goes well beyond the industries that are directly involved in their use.
“They’re also important for our Front Range businesses that have nothing to do with skiing per se,” Bush said. “High-tech, aerospace, they make decisions on starting a new business here partly because we have access to those public lands.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper brought up the far-reaching impact of outdoor recreation on Colorado in his State of the State speech last month.
“Outdoor recreation generates 313,000 jobs in our state and over $34 billion in economic output, much of it in rural Colorado,” Hickenlooper said.
Access and protection of public lands is an identifying characteristic of being a Coloradan, Becker said. ”It’s very much part of the Colorado brand.”
“A lot of people, if you ask them why they moved to Colorado, you’re going to find that in the first couple things that they list off is going to be an activity that happens on public lands,” Donovan said.
But the value of the lands goes far beyond the economic impact, she said. “They’re so democratic, and they’re such a unique concept in the world. This concept of public lands is uniquely American.”
Control of public landsWhile the Republican-held Legislature in Utah is pushing an agenda that calls for returning national public lands to the state, the GOP in Colorado is focused on improving the management of these lands.
“I think we need a better coordination between federal, state and county government,” said Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose.
To facilitate this coordination, Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Glenwood Springs, sponsored legislation in 2015 to create a grant program to assist local jurisdictions in cooperative efforts with federal land managers.
Rankin said he is in “lock-step” with Coram on this but does see occasions where the transfer of lands from federal control to state, and the other way around, could make sense. But not in mass.
“I don’t think it is practical to just say ‘we’re just going to transfer all federal lands to state control,’” Rankin said.
If legislation was put in place for such transfers, it would require well-thought-out guidelines, he said.
“We have to have some guardrails, too. We don’t want a situation where a state, just because they need to balance their budget, can sell off lands.”
Democrats in both chambers expressed concerns over Colorado’s ability to pay for the management of federal lands if they were transferred.
Donovan said in the past there have been attempts to question jurisdiction on public lands, which she sees as a slow creep toward moving these lands to state control. But no such legislation has been introduced this year.