Bears Ears: The Outdoor Industry and Public Lands


On Feb­ru­ary 7th, 2017, Patag­o­nia, one of the world’s most revered out­door appar­el brands, sent shock­waves across the out­door indus­try, when they announced they were drop­ping out of the Out­door Retail­er Trade Show in Salt Lake City, which brings in an esti­mat­ed $45 mil­lion in direct spend­ing to the state of Utah.

Just four days ear­li­er, Gov­er­nor Gary Her­bert signed a non-bind­ing res­o­lu­tion request­ing the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion to rescind Bears Ears Nation­al Mon­u­ment; estab­lished by Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma on Decem­ber 28th, 2016 to the praise of Native Amer­i­cans and envi­ron­men­tal­ists. The dec­la­ra­tion stat­ed that the mon­u­ment would not inter­fere with the rights of landown­ers in or adja­cent to the prop­er­ty, and that they would retain full use and access to their land. It also assured that cur­rent live­stock graz­ing and tim­ber prac­tices would con­tin­ue as they cur­rent­ly have.

The For­est Ser­vice, who man­ages the land joint­ly with the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment, announced that the land would be open to hunt­ing, fish­ing, hik­ing, climb­ing, cycling, and off high­way motoring.

Bears Ears Nation­al Mon­u­ment cov­ers over one mil­lion acres of land in South­east Utah, which holds sacred and sig­nif­i­cant val­ue to Native Amer­i­can tribes as well as out­door enthu­si­asts. The mon­u­ment was estab­lished with the coop­er­a­tion of the Bears Ears Inter-trib­al Coali­tion, who felt that the orig­i­nal dis­cus­sion draft intro­duced by state rep­re­sen­ta­tives Rob Bish­op and Jason Chaf­fetz, didn’t give full rep­re­sen­ta­tion to Native Amer­i­can tribes.

The con­cern of the tribes was based on two fac­tors. The first being the dec­la­ra­tion of an ‘Ener­gy Zone’ between the Cedar and Tank Mesas by Utah’s leg­is­la­ture, leav­ing the area open to gas, oil, and min­er­al devel­op­ment. The sec­ond was the threat of grave loot­ing and van­dal­ism from sacred sites, includ­ing the defac­ing of rock art, and destruc­tion of a 19th-Cen­tu­ry Nava­jo home, which was then uti­lized for firewood.

The move by the Utah leg­is­la­ture neg­a­tive­ly affect­ed Utah’s out­door indus­try, includ­ing com­pa­nies such as Black Dia­mond, whose CEO Peter Met­calf accused Her­bert of launch­ing “an all out assault against Utah’s pro­tect­ed pub­lic lands and Utah’s newest nation­al mon­u­ment” in a Salt Lake Tri­bune op-ed, call­ing for Out­door Retail­er to relo­cate to a more pub­lic land-friend­ly state.

Metcalf’s state­ment also came on the heels of two arti­cles of leg­is­la­tion intro­duced into the House in late Jan­u­ary by Chaf­fetz: H.R. 621 and H.R. 622. H.R. 621 pro­posed the sale of 3.3 mil­lion acres of fed­er­al lands across ten West­ern states. The bill has since been with­drawn after fierce pub­lic out­cry. H.R. 622, which remains intro­duced, would ter­mi­nate the law enforce­ment capac­i­ties of the For­est Ser­vice, leav­ing man­age­ment to poor­ly pre­pared local author­i­ties. As Chaf­fetz attempt­ed to gauge pub­lic inter­est for his poli­cies in a town hall, he found him­self backed in by a strong pub­lic land defense from constituents.

In the fol­low­ing days, Peak Design, Arc’teryx, Kokopel­li Pack­raft, Polartec, Meto­lious, Voor­mi, Kammok, GU, Pow­er Prac­ti­cal and Bedrock San­dals announced their with­draw­al from Out­door Retail­er, while oth­er com­pa­nies such as Cotopaxi, REI and The North Face stat­ed their inten­tions to remain in sup­port of small busi­ness­es, while also com­mit­ting an annu­al $100,000 to a new­ly cre­at­ed Pub­lic Lands Defense Fund, admin­is­tered by the Con­ser­va­tion Alliance. Sim­i­lar­ly, Ibex com­mit­ted $10,000 to the Defense Fund, but announced they would be attend­ing the show with a small­er team and reduced schedule.

In 2012, the Out­door Indus­try Asso­ci­a­tion report­ed that the out­door recre­ation econ­o­my in Utah was respon­si­ble for $12 bil­lion in con­sumer spend­ing and 122,000 jobs, as well as $856 mil­lion in state and local revenue.

A 2013 report on the Out­door Recre­ation Vision of Utah, pro­motes the health and eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits of a strong out­door recre­ation indus­try, while ask­ing if the high cost of guides, trav­el, and equip­ment was out of range for aver­age fam­i­lies. The intro­duc­tion ends omi­nous­ly with “And, of course, there are many oth­er issues.”

Out­door Retail­er itself, which has a con­tract through 2018, announced they would be solic­it­ing new loca­tions for the show in 2019 and onward. In response, Gov­er­nor Her­bert stat­ed on Feb­ru­ary 13th he would meet with lead­ers from Out­door Retail­er and the out­door indus­try in an attempt to find com­mon ground. After the Feb­ru­ary 16th con­fer­ence, between the gov­er­nor and the indus­try which failed to reach a con­sen­sus, it was decid­ed that Out­door Retail­er would def­i­nite­ly leave Salt Lake City in 2019.

Now is the time when out­door brands and gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives are lis­ten­ing, and the vic­to­ry over H.R. 621, was a demon­stra­tion of the pas­sion­ate defense for pub­lic lands. In ear­ly Feb­ru­ary, the Out­door Indus­try Asso­ci­a­tion issued an open let­ter to the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion, reflect­ing the views of over 200 large and small busi­ness­es and tout­ing the strength of a strong out­door econ­o­my, which accrues $646 bil­lion annu­al­ly and employs more than six mil­lion peo­ple. In the let­ter, they state:

“It is an Amer­i­can right to roam in our pub­lic lands. The peo­ple of the Unit­ed States, today and tomor­row, share equal­ly in the own­er­ship of these majes­tic places. This pow­er­ful idea tran­scends par­ty lines and sets our coun­try apart from the rest of the world. That is why we strong­ly oppose any pro­pos­al, cur­rent or future, that deval­ues or com­pro­mis­es the integri­ty of our nation­al pub­lic lands.”

But pub­lic lands will not be defend­ed by the out­door indus­try alone. It is up to the pub­lic, be it hunters, climbers, fish­er­man, skiers, bik­ers, off-road enthu­si­asts or hik­ers, to make their voic­es heard, write con­gress­man, attend local meet­ings, and vehe­ment­ly defend our nation­al pub­lic lands.