Twice annually the outdoor industry gathers in Salt Lake City, Utah for the Outdoor Retailer trade-show. OR, as it’s known, is one of the world’s largest trade gatherings, an all important stage for brands to show off their new products and celebrate the industry as a whole. So when I read headlines that industry juggernauts Patagonia and Arc’teryx had announced their intentions to pull out of the show, it was clear that there was something larger afoot. The Internet was awash with commentary on the matter, so it didn’t take long to establish the connection between the trade-show controversy and another story that I’d been following loosely for some time.

In the United States, one of the most effective means to protect wilderness areas is by having them designated as National Monuments, which in essence is similar to a federally managed National Park. In the closing days of 2016, right the end of his tenure, now former US president and Democrat Barrack Obama designated two sites as National Monuments – Gold Butte in Nevada and Bears’ Ears in Utah. The move was controversial, celebrated by Native American Tribes and conservationists, whilst vehemently opposed by local Republican leaders and those in the sector of energy & mineral development. Bears’ Ears is an area of 1.35 million hectares, much of which is considered sacred. It contains treasures including Ancestoral Publoan cliff dwellings dating back over 3500 years, which are among an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites. The landscape is dramatic, with soaring sandstone buttresses and deep undeveloped canyons. For the climbers among us, it’s also home to the world famous crack-climbing mecca of Indian Creek. Patagonia both as an outdoor company and a force for environmental advocacy, has long been a staunch supporter of protecting Bears’ Ears. They campaigned long before Obama’s designation, with the video below offering an insight the area and it’s significance.

So now fast forward to early February 2017, the US has a new president in Republican Donald Trump. Meanwhile Utah, Republican governor Gary Herbert signs a resolution urging the Trump administration to consider rescinding the Bears Ear national Monument. With this news breaking on the eve of the OR Trade-show, it only follows that such a significant public stage would end up being utilised to discuss and highlight the issue.

OR brings in an estimated $45million to Salt Lake city annually, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Founder and CEO of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard wrote in an open letter to Herbert, that “[t]he American people own these lands—and Utah reaps the rewards. Every year, outdoor recreation in Utah drives $12 billion in consumer spending and supports 122,000 jobs across the state”. He also makes the point that “The outdoor industry creates three times the amount of jobs than the fossil fuels industry”. From where I’m standing it clearly doesn’t make sense either environmentally or economically to re-open Bears’ Ears to the possibility of mining exploitation. Patagonia may have been one of the first to take a stand on the issue, but they were not alone. Companies such as Arc’teryx and Khul have both followed suit, making public their intentions to boycott the trade-show if the political winds don’t change. Many other brands also weighed in on the discussion, some in support of the boycott, whilst others felt sticking together and continuing to attend the trade-show as a more powerful option.

The OR show organisers naturally had to respond and on February 14th OR show director Marisa Nicolson issued a statement titled “Our goal is Not just to Speak, our goal is to be Heard” in which she urges companies to band together, rather than act divided. Nicholson also makes a powerful point that “while Bears’ Ears National Monument status is a lightning rod, it is just the most currently visible example of what will be a long, hard series of fights the outdoor community needs to not only raise our voices about, but, even more importantly, about which we need to be heard”.

On some level this controversy reached Governor Herbert. On February 16th he spoke via tele conference with industry leaders from the OR show, the Outdoor Industry Association, Patagonia, The North Face, and REI. In a press release the group stated that “unfortunately, what we heard from Governor Herbert was more of the same. It is clear that the governor indeed has a different perspective on the protections of public lands from that of our members and the majority of Western state voters, both Republicans and Democrats – that’s bad for our American heritage, and it’s bad for our businesses”. One consequence of this outcome is that at this stage OR will now be looking for a new home, with the Outdoor Summer Market in 2018 being the last show to be held in Utah. The underlying issue still stands and whilst this isn’t by any means the ideal solution, it does at least begin to open doors for the future.

One thing is for sure, the outdoor recreation industry is beginning to realise it has the power to incite positive change and it’s finding a voice. Clearly the fight to protect significant wilderness areas is long from over, both in the US & abroad. My main wish is the the outdoor industry continues to act and that it does so with the strength that comes with unity.

About The Author

Lachlan Gardiner

Lachlan works as a freelance photographer, writer and videographer. He loves spending time in the outdoors whenever possible - be it hiking, mountaineering, climbing, or just being on the road - He'll take any excuse to get into the mountains! He also works in our Paddy Pallin store in Fortitude valley, Brisbane. Drop in and say hi!

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