Why you should be listening to Outdoor Retailer companies, Editorial Board writes

We’re going to miss the Great Salt Lake a lot more than we’ll miss even the largest trade show.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show for outdoor industry manufacturers and retail buyers, August 3, 2016, at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

If Utah’s political class makes the changes that would be necessary to win back the twice-a-year Outdoor Retailer trade show, the $40 million-plus in renewed annual economic impact might be among the smallest benefits we would see.

Once again filling downtown Salt Lake City with backpacks and kayaks and ski poles and tent poles would be nice. But finally grasping the fact that protecting our state’s natural wonders can be — and, in the long term, must be — totally compatible with boosting our economy would bring us a lot more than just cash. It would not be too much to say that it would help save the world.

Gov. Spencer Cox is among those trying to entice the big-bucks trade show, which decamped Salt Lake City for Denver in 2017, back to Utah. In a brief video pitch released in October, the governor stressed the standard convention amenities of a rebuilt airport and a new downtown hotel, claims that are true enough, but not good enough.

Cox also made mention of his supposed willingness to “establish sustainable ways to manage Bears Ears National Monument and other cherished public lands.”

That vague promise isn’t going to cut it. And Utah’s economic development gurus are deluding themselves if they think it ever would be.

It should have been no surprise to anyone that we found out that even if the trade show operators at Emerald X do decide to return the exhibition to Utah as soon as 2023, they will do so without the participation of such giants as Patagonia, REI and The North Face. Those are the big dogs of The Conservation Alliance, a group of more than 270 companies that made it clear again Monday that they are still not interested in displaying their wares in any state — *cough* Utah *cough* — that has maintained its attack on the full restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

As long as Utah is not willing to realize that it is a public lands state that should put nothing ahead of its commitment to protect and preserve those commonly held spaces, there is no reason why multi-national corporations whose futures depend on access to protected spaces should want to have anything to do with a state that is overtly hostile to their business plan.

But there is much more than trade shows and hotel bookings involved. Much more than a couple of national monuments that, despite what Utah’s swarm of lawyers may claim, are national monuments worthy of protection.

The understanding that The Conservation Alliance has, and that Utah’s political class lacks, is that the future of everything, not just money, is dependent on new ways of looking at the world. Ways that involve a lot more preservation and a lot less drilling, mining and burning.

Also in recent days, we learned that the megadrought now seizing the American Southwest — driven in large part by human-caused climate change — is the worst in the last 1,200 years. Something that’s not all that surprising to anyone who has looked at the Great Salt Lake, Lake Powell or the Colorado River lately.

Some of Utah’s legislative leaders were invited to burn a few more hydrocarbons by taking a ride in some National Guard helicopters, getting a Blackhawk’s eye view of how much the Great Salt Lake has shrunk in recent years. Lawmakers seemed impressed. But not necessarily impressed enough to do anything other than, as Senate President Stuart Adams said, pray for snow.

Fast forward 25 years, and we can expect a repeat, only then it will be flying up and down the I-15 corridor through brown air, over snailing traffic and a hodgepodge of decaying structures that didn’t plan for a population of 5 million citizens along the Wasatch Front.

Utah is home to the country’s, and possibly the world’s most beautiful landscapes. Preserving and building infrastructure to support these gems for generations is the responsibility of Utah and the federal government.

The 2022 session of the Utah Legislature has basically gone to waste, consumed by petty or counterproductive debates over press access, funding private schools and measuring the wingspan of transgender athletes.

But we could start planning now for a bold 2023 session, one that starts to address our growth — air, water, transportation, housing, education — our future industries and jobs and our changing population. Utah voters can contact their legislators and their governor to make their wisdom known on these and other subjects.

Without a change in our approach to how we respect the natural world, we’re going to miss the Great Salt Lake a lot more than we will ever miss even the biggest trade show.