SALT LAKE CITY — The political and emotional tug-of-war over the destiny of Utah's public lands is on center stage this week as Outdoor Retailer Summer Market begins its four-day run in Salt Lake City beginning Wednesday.
This year's event features former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who will keynote an industry breakfast on Wednesday with remarks also offered by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
Organizers also plan a Wednesday release of a state-by-state look at the economic impacts of outdoor recreation and will host a march from 4-6:30 p.m. Thursday from the Salt Palace Convention Center to the state Capitol.
The "This Land is Our Land March" will feature speeches by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and the Outdoor Industry Association's executive director Amy Roberts.
This week's summer show marks the industry's final trade event in Utah with its departure to Denver due to a fallout with the state's political leaders over a feud on public lands issues.
Utah's congressional delegation, Gov. Gary Herbert and the majority of Utah's GOP-dominated state Legislature opposed the late 2016 designation by then-President Barack Obama of the Bears Ears National Monument, an executive decision to set aside 1.35 million acres in San Juan County.
Top politicians have also reiterated their opposition to the two-decades-old designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Grand and Kane counties.
The outdoor industry threatened to pull its trade shows from Utah and ultimately ended its 20-year run in Salt Lake City over the push by politicians to rescind the monuments, particularly Bears Ears.
Jewell, who visited the Bears Ears region in 2016 during her tenure as interior secretary, has since publicly supported the monument's creation and has argued against any executive branch action to "gut" designations.
Her opposition is part of a controversial debate over a current review by new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who was directed by President Donald Trump to look at 27 monument designations made since 1996, including Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears. Three of the monuments — Craters of the Moon, Canyons of the Ancients and Hanford Reach — were since pulled by Zinke from consideration of any changes.
Trump asked Zinke to specifically review those monuments where local input may have been inadequate and designations in which the scope and breadth of the acreage may bump up against provisions of the 1906 Antiquities Act — which grants presidential authority for monument creation.
Monument supporters say Zinke and Trump should leave well enough alone, charging that the review constitutes an "attack" on public lands.
Critics, conversely, welcome the review which they hope assures more local autonomy over how the land is managed in the future.
This week's politically charged events on behalf of monuments will continue that ongoing rift over the fate of Utah's public lands. It is a fight that routinely pits environmental groups and recreation enthusiasts against policies of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, which allow multiple use on lands the agencies manage, including grazing, mining, and oil and gas development.
On Tuesday, the Alliance for a Better Utah Education Fund released a report, "Moving Forward - Utah's Future Beyond Coal," which compares the economics of the coal industry with that of outdoor recreation in the state.
Its thrust — among other things — asserts outdoor recreation fostered 122,000 direct jobs in Utah in 2013 compared to coal mining's 1,605 — and state leaders are foolhardy to continue to support the fossil fuel's extraction when there are environmentally friendly ways to spur economic development.
"You can't preserve and destroy simultaneously," said Jonathan Ruga, co-chairman of the Alliance for a Better Utah board.
"Our energy sources need to change so we can preserve our environment and have economic development," he added. "That is the narrative, that is the truth and that is the reality."
Ruga and other monument supporters believe the push to undo Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument rests on a desire to get at the nation's largest untapped coal reserves.
At the time of the monument's creation, a mining company was going through the federal permitting process to get at the reserves. The monument designation put mining off-limits.
Public lands advocates are also upset at a proposal by the BLM to consider oil and gas leases in the area of Dinosaur National Monument.
They say those leases are for parcels too close to monument boundaries and will jeopardize the visitor experience.
A public comment period on the proposed leases closed Monday, with a group of recreation-themed businesses asking the agency to rescind the parcels.