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Op-ed: If Outdoor Retailers leave, they put Utah’s natural treasures more at risk

First Published      Last Updated Feb 16 2017 06:00 am

Recent political events in Utah have prompted some of the outdoor industry's leading voices to call on Outdoor Retailer to leave the state. This call to arms sends a strong and potentially painful message to Utah politicians, and provides an outlet for frustrated industry leaders and activists to vent their understandable anger.

Like so many instances of raising a voice in frustration, however, this too provides some short-term gratification at the expense of long-term progress. Pressuring Outdoor Retailer to leave Utah would actually be counterproductive to the cause these voices care most about: preserving the remarkable landmarks that grace Utah's unique landscape.




The recent backlash against the state comes as Utah's elected officials flex their muscles in the face of perceived federal bullies. Whether you agree with them or not, it's important to understand a couple things about the unique circumstances of Utah's political situation. First, Utah has one of the most lopsided political dynamics in the United States. More than red and blue, the Legislature and governor's office are dominated by shades of red. Second, the federal government owns roughly 65 percent of Utah's land, more than any other state except Nevada.

The combined effect of these two factors means that many of the environmental decisions and declarations that Utah's political leaders make are motivated less by the environment itself and more by the "don't tread on me" mentality that has always played a foundational role in the states' rights ideology of the GOP.

While the latest resolution regarding Bears Ears Monument could rightly be seen as just the latest installment in an endless series of conservative posturing against liberal activists, it's important not to lose sight of what's at stake here: the very treasures that dot one of the most unique landscapes on planet Earth.

The unfortunate reality is that if activists have their way and Outdoor Retailer leaves the state, the local political discourse would lose an essential voice in the environmental debate — and Utah's political zeitgeist could shift dangerously away from conservation. This is not because Utahns don't love nature, but because of the visceral response conservatives have to federal mandates, which bristle against the very core of their political ethos.

Sure, environmental activists who find themselves out of the mainstream of Utah politics could take their money and their voices elsewhere, but doing so would burn a crucial bridge that connects out-of-state environmental stakeholders, the federal government and the politicians in whose state these treasures happen to reside.

Much has been said about the dangerous effects of internet echo chambers — where social network users engage only with those who share their own particular point-of-view. For Outdoor Retailer to leave Utah in favor of virtually any other state would be a retreat into a geographic echo chamber to parallel the one that exists all too often online. While this echo chamber would likely provide a momentary respite from the frustrations of Utah's contentious environmental dialog, it would be entirely unlikely to result in any positive effect on Utah's environmental policies.

A move to any other state, too, would shift the epicenter of the Outdoor Industry's dialogue to what must realistically be seen as a lesser battlefield. It is true that other states are likely to provide a more friendly political climate than Utah, but those states simply do not have the magnitude nor diversity of the natural wonders at stake. While nature abounds in the American West, the Red Rock wonders that lie at the core of Bears Ears, Grand Staircase and many other points of political debate are unique to Utah.

These unique natural treasures carry a value so great to humanity that their stewardship ought to transcend both politics and geographic boundaries. If that value is to endure, then these treasures must remain at the very heart of the political debate in Utah. The only way to ensure that happens is for environmental voices to stay, not leave.

Kevin Knight is chief marketing officer at Experticity, a Utah-based company that connects brands with the experts who help people decide what to buy. He also served as an aide to former Gov. Jon Huntsman and then-Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, including a stint as energy policy coordinator.

 

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