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Outdoor industry pulls trade show from Utah, citing Bears Ears feud

A view from Comb Ridge in Utah’s Bears Ears area of the Four Corners Region on Dec. 18, 2016. (Reuters)

The nation’s largest outdoor-recreation companies are pulling their official trade show from Salt Lake City, citing Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s push to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument’s federal designation.

Herbert (R) has joined with Utah’s congressional delegation in asking President Trump to undo federal protections that former president Barack Obama granted in late December to Bears Ears, a sacred ancestral Pueblo site in southeastern Utah. On Thursday evening, the group that sponsors the outdoor industry’s largest trade show, Outdoor Retailer, announced it would no longer allow Salt Lake City to bid on its 2018 Summer and Winter Market. The company has held the twice-yearly trade show there for 20 years.

Hours before, the trade-show sponsor participated in a call with Herbert along with officials from Patagonia, The North Face, REI and the Outdoor Industry Association. Participants from both sides described the conversation as contentious. Herbert, who signed a resolution from the state legislature last month calling on Trump to use his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to revoke the monument, offered to convene a group to discuss the matter further.

“We felt that we were being presented with an ultimatum,” Paul Edwards, Herbert’s deputy chief of staff, told reporters after the session. “They were not eager to accept the governor’s invitation for further dialogue.”

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Amy Roberts, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association, said the group tried to support other avenues to protect land in Utah, including a legislative initiative led by House Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) that stalled last year. But Utah politicians’ actions over the years were undermining land protections, she said. “We’ve reached a boiling point,” Roberts said.

“He has a very different view on protections of public lands than our members do,” Roberts said of Herbert, noting that the Antiquities Act has traditionally been used by presidents to protect iconic federal holdings. “We don’t want the monument to be rescinded. There’s no precedent for rescinding a monument. It puts the Antiquities Act in play.”

In a statement, Outdoor Retailer said that while it will be challenging to find a new location, “we are in lockstep with the outdoor community and are working on finding our new home.”

Separately, Emerald Expositions announced it will not allow Utah to bid on the future site for the Interbike trade show, a mecca for cyclists.

Visit Salt Lake’s President and CEO Scott Beck called the city “an unparalleled venue” for trade shows. Edwards called the industry’s decision to freeze out the state “offensive.”

“It reflects a gross ingratitude to a community that has embraced the Outdoor Retailer show, subsidizing its success and expansion through direct investment — let alone extraordinary hospitality,” Edwards said in a statement. “It perpetuates the false narrative that Utah — a state that derives much of its inspiration and identity from its iconic public lands — a state that invests tens of millions of dollars into the protection of and access to its public lands — is somehow hostile to those public lands.”

But the state’s politicians need to understand the economic consequences of their actions, said Scott Miller, senior regional director for the Wilderness Society.

“This should send a clear signal to Utah’s leadership,” Miller said in a statement. “In the wake of ongoing political attacks on our clean air and water, wildlife and sacred places, we will stand united in our beliefs and our business practices.”