Leading figures in the outdoor industry are taking a stand against attempts by Utah Republicans to transfer federally controlled land for oil and gas development. At a semi-annual trade show for the 646 billion-dollar industry, leaders from Patagonia and Black Diamond called for their colleagues to move the trade show unless state leaders stop supporting attempts by congressional Republicans to sell or transfer protected federal lands into state control. Industry leaders singled out Utah governor Gary Herbert for challenging President Obama’s creation of the 1.4 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah last month.
In an opinion piece published in the Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday, Utah resident and founder of climbing and ski equipment company Black Diamond, Peter Metcalf, said:
“Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah’s D.C. delegation are leading a national all-out assault on the sanctity of Utah and the country’s public lands. Together, Utah’s political leadership has birthed an anti-public lands political agenda that is the driving force of an existential threat to the vibrancy of Utah and America’s outdoor industry, as well as Utah’s high quality of life.”
He also noted that the trade show brings 40 million dollars of spending to Salt Lake City annually, while the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) estimated the real figure could be double that number.
The following day, the founder of outdoor clothing company Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard published an open letter to Governor Herbert. She said her company will stop attending the Utah trade show unless he shows that “he wants our business—and that he supports thousands of his constituents of all political persuasions who work in jobs supported by recreation on public lands.”
Both the letter and the opinion piece represent growing concern over efforts by state leaders to take control federally protected lands. A 2014 study conducted by Utah found that the state could make 50 million dollars annually by taking control of the state’s federal land for oil and gas development.
This figure would only be accurate if oil prices remained at 2014 levels. Another concern is that states might be forced to sell the land to private buyers if they were unable to afford maintenance.
Last week, House Republicans voted to remove one barrier to the transfer of federal lands to states, by removing a rule that requires the federal government to calculate the value of land before selling it to states or private buyers. This could streamline the process of transfers in the future.
Utah is bound to be a flashpoint for conflict over this issue, with 22 million acres controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management, in addition to Arches, Canyonlands, and Zion national parks. Utah’s outdoor recreation industry is worth 12 billion dollars, and supports 122,000 jobs.
Governor Herbert’s deputy chief of staff issued a statement on Tuesday denying that the governor had an agenda to destroy public lands, saying his objection to the creation of Bears Ear had to do with the “sweeping unilateral” nature of the designation.