After lecturing Utah’s elected officials, questioning Utah’s commitment to public lands and issuing irrational ultimatums, the Outdoor Retailer trade show leaders officially pulled the twice-yearly event from the state. In a manner foreign to most Utahns, the outdoor retailer industry made a threatening demand and then walked away. In doing so, they walked away from the place they themselves proclaimed was the best location for their event.
Sadly, the leaders of the outdoor retail industry chose to ignore Utah’s performance when it comes to being careful stewards of public lands. No state in the nation does more than Utah to preserve, protect and promote effective land management and use. Utah has 253 conservation projects, 43 state parks, 35 million acres of land open to the public and the country’s largest wildlife conservation project. These are just three of many real life examples of Utah’s commitment to the land and people of our state.
Instead of focusing on the actual work Utah is doing to protect the land, the industry instead hyperventilated on alternative facts and internet hysteria to promote an agenda. I am sure you have seen the pictures, but there really isn’t — and never will be — an oil rig under Delicate Arch.
Outdoor Retailer leadership even ignored the wishes of its own members. In August 2015, Marisa Nicholson, Outdoor Retailer vice president and show director, told SGB Media that options and concerns over moving were weighed by doing a survey of more than 6,000 specialty retailer attendees and exhibitors. SGB reported, “Over two-thirds, an overwhelming majority, indicated their preference for keeping the show in Salt Lake City. The highest majority of the responses came from specialty retailers, which show organizers considered to be the most critical indicator.”
On Thursday, industry leaders didn’t even have the courage or courtesy to board their private jets in order to sit down with Gov. Gary Herbert for dialogue. They phoned it in, with their press release already written and ready to roll — and which they dropped minutes after the call ended.
The type of bullying rhetoric deployed by the outdoor retail industry created the kind of fake fight and false choices we often see in Washington, D.C. That is not how we do it here in Utah.
We understand that stewardship of natural resources is everyone’s responsibility. We know public lands can and ought to be put to multiple — often complementary — uses, which expands the economic pie to everyone’s benefit. Ultimatums kill collaboration and compromise.
So, while questioning our state’s values and our love for public lands, their ultimatums actually restricted and undermined real collaboration and constructive dialogue on this critical issue. So those who care about our public lands need to move beyond the bluster and bombast and get to principled compromise and viable land management solutions. I would note that this applies to public officials, citizens and interested parties on all sides of land and national monument issues.
Clearly, tourism and outdoor recreation play a vital role in Utah’s economy today and will for generations to come. Utah’s unparalleled beauty and recreational opportunities draw visitors from around the world, driving small businesses, providing tax revenue and making our state a great place to work, live and play.
To claim that the only appropriate use of our public lands is outdoor recreation is to ignore the needs of real Utahns — especially those who live in our rural communities.
Everyone must recognize that responsible land management is not a zero-sum game with only winners and losers.
Ultimatums are a zero-sum approach that usually add up to nothing for everyone and often hurt hardworking citizens the most. Those working in the support areas of the convention business will be hardest hit in the short run. Utah will thrive without the Outdoor Retailer shows, because that is what we do in this state. People and conventions continue to flock to the state because of our natural land, our strong economy and the people who truly make Utah extraordinary.
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Utah is a champion and example of good land policy, and we should never walk away from crucial conversations about stewardship and conservation. Our elected officials, federal government agencies, local citizens and other key voices from business and the community must continue to engage in an inclusive, elevated dialogue that will lead to land management policies that will foster a healthy environment, abundant recreational opportunities, and a diverse thriving economy for all Utahns now and for the future. That is the Utah way.
Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.