Stacy Bare: Can the outdoor industry engage with Utah?

Businesses that object to Utah’s stand on national monuments could put their money where their mouth is.

Outdoor Retailer, the outdoor industry’s largest trade show, is querying whether to come back to Utah for at least one of its two shows a year.

You’ll recall they fled a few years back for Colorado, angry, so they said, about Utah’s unwillingness to support the Bears Ears National Monument designation. Turns out, however, that Colorado wasn’t the promised land. There are rumors afloat though, that the trade show, and the outdoor industry, think by dangling the carrot of return to what is now a thriving, multi-faceted economy in Utah, it can force Utah’s hand in conservation as it — the industry — continues to make a showcase of performative activism around Bears Ears.

If brands who had spent collectively hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in advertising and campaigns around the designation of Bears Ears —a designation I supported and worked towards — put a fraction of that cash into supporting and enhancing the state-funded visitor’s center (which is designed to support employment of the tribes in the area that has received a 70% plus increase in visitorship since designation), they’d be able to have a more honest and fruitful conversation with voters and legislators in Utah.

Federal funds have not been forthcoming to support new challenges in conservation that the increase in tourism brings to Bears Ears with the designation. Without providing additional support for the visitor center or ongoing outdoor education, the industry and its brands are left looking like all that work was only a marketing ploy that confirms the worst fears of many advocates against Bears Ears — that it was a ploy for outside control.

Locals can be rightly concerned that without careful management, Blanding could become the next Moab with the monument designation signaling housing prices that ultimately outpace local income and replace existing, meaningful work with seasonal, low paying jobs.

A second option would be for the industry to highlight and congratulate Utah for doing well when the state does make significant investment in land conservation and environmental action. Look at the $100 million budget proposal Gov. Cox put in for recreation infrastructure development statewide last year that the Legislature increased to $160 million. Or how about acknowledging the conservation benefit the state just secured with a $20 million purchase of 8,000 acres called Cinnamon Creek? This purchase, which protects, of all things, sage grouse habitat, a former lightning rod for policy makers in Western States, would go a long way in highlighting that the industry was serious about growing the conservation and responsible recreation movement, not just saber rattling and appeasing its base.

There is a huge opportunity for public-private partnerships to reach across political divides in the state of Utah right now for public lands. America would welcome such leadership. Given the bipartisan legislation that is funding the visitor’s center in Bears Ears, as well as the recent conservation purchase, and a new commitment to save the Great Salt Lake, it certainly feels like the state of Utah is trying to reach across the divide.

Will the outdoor industry reach back?

Stacy Bare has worked in and around the outdoor industry for more than a decade. The former Director of Sierra Club Outdoors and a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year was involved in campaigning for the protection of Bears Ears National Monument.