SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A powerful outdoor recreation industry executive said Tuesday the world's largest outdoor retail show going on this week in Salt Lake City should leave Utah if the state's top political leaders continue what he calls an assault on public lands.
Black Diamond Equipment founder Peter Metcalf said keeping the show in Utah makes the industry complicit in supporting rhetoric and strategies that don't align with its values. Metcalf sharply criticized Gov. Gary Herbert and others for strategizing to reverse President Barack Obama's recent designation of the Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah.
"If they don't want to change their policies, we should respond with our dollars, with our conventioneers, with our money, and take this show to a state that is much more aligned with our values," Metcalf said.
His comments came on the opening day of the Outdoor Retailer's winter show, which brings about 22,000 people for a business-to-business expo that allows store owners to meet with manufacturers and preview products that will reach the retail market soon. The twice-yearly show gives Utah an estimated $45 million in annual direct spending.
Herbert refuted the notion he and others have launched an assault on public lands. His deputy chief of staff, Paul Edwards, said in a statement Herbert took exception to the unilateral designation of Bears Ears by an outgoing president, which didn't take into account input from state and local officials.
The governor demonstrated his commitment to protecting and promoting Utah's scenic beauty with the 2013 creation of an Office of Outdoor Recreation, Edwards said.
"Gov. Herbert has been clear that Utah is, always has been, and always will be a public lands state," Edwards said.
The show is committed to Utah through at least 2018.
Metcalf said he isn't advocating for the show to break any contracts, but wants officials to seriously consider his plea as they plan in the coming months for beyond 2018.
"Utah is really ground zero for the worst public lands policies," he said.
Metcalf first made the critiques in a guest editorial for The Salt Lake Tribune published Tuesday. He is a member of the Outdoor Industry Association that sponsors the show but isn't speaking on their behalf.
The Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Retailer said in a joint statement it will take feedback from members into account as one factor in future decisions that must also consider the importance of being in a city that meets the "business requirements of the industry."
The organizations cited the open and honest relationship they've enjoyed with Herbert and the state's political delegation, but echoed Metcalf's concerns in more measured terms.
"We must be clear that protection of America's public lands, including those in Utah, are critical and any threat to their protection is a threat to the outdoor industry," the statement reads.
The Boulder, Colorado-based Outdoor Industry Association, which represents companies such as Patagonia and The North Face, sponsors the Outdoor Retailer show. The show has been in Salt Lake City every year since 1996, except for 2002 during the Winter Olympics.
This isn't the first time Utah's political posturing on the issue has threatened to impact its relationship with the outdoor recreation industry.
Before announcing in 2013 it would extend its Utah contract, show organizers threatened to relocate the event if the state didn't demonstrate a commitment to preserving public lands. Metcalf spoke out then too. Herbert published a broad-stroke plan to preserve Utah's natural jewels and created the office devoted solely to outdoor recreation.
Those moves seemed to ease the industry's concerns but the recent fervor over Bears Ears, which included vows from Utah's Republican senators to work to reverse the designation, seems to have reignited the long-simmering tensions.
Metcalf said he isn't considering moving his company, which he relocated to Utah in 1991, because he doesn't want to upend the lives of his 300 employees and their families. He said would be sad if the show moves too but said his industry must do more than just talk to get the attention of Utah political leaders.