SALT LAKE CITY — Peter Metcalf, a mountaineer credited with helping to lure the Outdoor Retailer shows to Utah in the mid-1990s, said the lucrative trade gathering should leave the state because of top leaders' political opposition to the Bears Ears National Monument.
Metcalf, a co-founder of Black Diamond and now CEO-emeritus of the company, blasted Utah's political leaders on Tuesday, the opening day of the winter sports market that generates $22 million in direct delegate spending in the Salt Lake area.
"The agenda that is being pursued by our governor, our Legislature and our delegation is an absolute attack on our public lands," said Metcalf, who has no official leadership position with the retailers show or its sponsor, the Outdoor Industry Association.
Metcalf is, however, a prominent outdoor industry activist on conservation issues and received an award from the convention bureau for his role in bringing the trade show to Utah.
The association and show released a statement in response to Metcalf's remarks, declining to detail if a departure from Salt Lake City is under consideration. They're under contract to stay in Utah until the summer of 2018.
"We've always had an open and honest relationship with the governor and the congressional delegation, but we must be clear that the protection of America's public lands, including those in Utah, are critical and any threat to their protection is a threat to the outdoor industry," it read.
The statement points out the association and retailers are "extremely grateful" to President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for preserving a record number of public lands while in office, but concedes those moves have sometimes "generated controversy."
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's office also released a statement in response to Metcalf's call for the trade show's departure.
"There is no all-out assault against Utah's public lands. Gov. Herbert has been clear that Utah is, always has been and always will be a public lands state," said Paul Edwards, Herbert's deputy chief of staff.
"What concerns Gov. Herbert is the process that has been used to make public lands decisions. Good decisions would include the right people and take into account all the unique characteristics associated with Utah's varied landscape," Edwards added.
Herbert, the entire congressional delegation, the Utah Legislature, all statewide elected leaders and the Utah Association of Counties — representing all 29 counties — are opposed to Obama's designation of the Bears Ears National Monument on Dec. 28.
Obama issued the proclamation setting aside 1.35 million acres of land in San Juan County after a push from an intertribal coalition made up of five tribes that worked with the support of environmental groups and conservation organizations. Fifteen leading outdoor industry retailers, many from Utah, also urged the monument's designation during the summer show last August.
The state has threatened to sue over the designation, and Utah's congressional delegation is either working with the Trump administration to try to unravel Obama's proclamation or are planning to introduce legislation aimed at gutting the Antiquities Act. The delegation has threatened to attack the monument in other ways, including pulling funding.
Metcalf said the continued "anti-public lands" agenda of Utah's political leaders can't be tolerated by the outdoor recreation industry.
"We need to consider whether or not we want to be complicit in these policies," he said.
But Edwards said being anti-monument doesn't mean being anti-protection.
"With regard to the Bears Ears Monument designation specifically, the governor has long held that these lands need better protection than what the (Bureau of Land Management) has heretofore chosen to provide," Edwards said.
"This sweeping unilateral designation by an outgoing administration rejects the input of elected state and federal representatives, and was the wrong way to achieve the best outcome for those lands," he said.
Environmental groups have criticized the state for failing to provide enough protections for the rugged and remote area of southeast Utah, named for a pair of sandstone-capped buttes that rise nearly 9,000 feet.
But the majority of the land is managed by the BLM and Forest Service, with 109,000 acres of school trust lands located within the monument footprint. The federal land management agencies have had oversight of the region but operate under a multiuse mandate that monument supporters say is in conflict with resource protection.
Those who sought the monument designation said they want better protections for more than 100,000 cultural relics scattered throughout a region, relics that have been compromised by visitation that has steadily increased over the last several years.
Metcalf predicted that 20 years from now, the Bears Ears National Monument will be on the same scale as Zion National Park and Canyonlands National Park because of its iconic landscape and its role as an economic driver for the region.
This isn't the first public tension over concerns the Outdoor Retailer shows will leave Utah due to public land squabbles. There was a dust-up in 2004 and again in 2012. A few years ago, the show considered leaving over space issues at the convention center.