The showdown between Utah’s Sagebrush Rebels and the outdoor industry has been shaping up for months.
Peter Metcalf, a longtime leader in the burgeoning outdoor-recreation industry, recently accused Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and other political leaders in an op-ed commentary of "killing the goose that laid the golden egg. " He claimed pro-development policies threaten to ruin the blue skies and pristine landscapes that draw billions of dollars in outdoor recreation spending in Utah.
New report describes outdoor recreation as potent economic driver
The industry report says active outdoor recreation is responsible for:
6.1 million jobs nationally
$646 billion in consumer spending
$39.9 billion in federal tax revenue; and
$39.7 billion in state/local tax revenue.
In Utah, the industry means:
$5.8 billion annually to the economy
Nearly $300 million in annual state tax revenues
Nearly $4 billion annually in retail sales and services; and
Accounts for almost five percent of the Gross State Product.
Source: Outdoor Industry Association
Herbert responded by a casting Metcalf as an extremist who was unwilling to collaborate and invited Metcalf to resign from the Ski and Snowboard Industry Working Group — an invitation Metcalf accepted.
With their rift now seemingly as deep and wide as southern Utah’s Labyrinth Canyon, the Outdoor Industry Association is assembling in Salt Lake City this week for its bi-annual trade show.
The two sides come face to face Wednesday, when Herbert meets with the group’s leadership, which is exploring the idea of moving all or part of the twice-yearly convention out of the state — along with the $40 million in business and 40,000 visitors those meetings bring each year.
Almost a decade ago, Metcalf and the trade group threatened to quit Salt Lake City over a similar quarrel — a roads deal — but they were able to resolve it with past governors.
This time, lots of disagreements have popped up. They include legislation Herbert signed asserting Utah has a right to control 30 million acres of federal lands within the state; a lawsuit seeking control of thousands of disputed roads on federal lands; and proposed federal legislation to link Canyons and Solitude ski resorts by gondola.
Ally Isom, the governor’s spokeswoman, said Herbert is looking forward to the opportunity to sit down with trade group leaders.
"He plans to convey his commitment to keeping the Outdoor Retailers show in Utah," she said in an email, "as well as his conviction that Utah treasures all the outdoors offers for recreational value and tourism — that means a balanced, thoughtful and inclusive approach to public land management.’’
Co-founder and president of Salt Lake County-based Black Diamond mountain equipment company, Metcalf is not expected to be in Wednesday’s closed-door meeting with Herbert. He resigned his post on the executive committee years ago.
Still, he sees a lot on the line for the industry and the "natural resources" its customers use for fishing, hiking, hunting, skiing, kayaking and other outdoor activities that bring mean more than $6 billion a year to Utah’s economy.
"It’s a pivotal moment for the industry to actively exercise its leadership on these issues," said Metcalf in an interview.
Metcalf challenged the notion that he is "a wacky, lone wolf" on the subject — a message he said that is coming from the Governor’s Office.
He calls the politicians behind the pro-development laws and policies "radical right-wingers" and counters that his view is "very much mainstream, apple pie and motherhood American," adding that it is a perspective praised by ordinary Utahns, as well as others in the outdoor industry.
"Probably the most important thing I can do is not be there" at Wednesday’s meeting, he said."It’s up to the board to speak up as the board."
"Legislators don’t appreciate the importance of these public lands to the economy, to our jobs, to our livelihood — to Utah’s signature product," he said. Elected leaders "pay lip service to this but do nothing in action to show that they are really aligned with those values, and they clearly have not shown an understanding of how important these lands are — and once they are lost, they are lost forever."
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