In the waning days of his administration, President Barack Obama used his authority under the U.S. Antiquities Act to declare almost 1.4 million acres in southeastern Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument.
Supporters of the new monument hailed the proclamation as one that would preserve some of the most sacred Native American ancestral lands in America. Opponents claimed the national monument designation limits access to these public lands and is yet another example of federal overreach.
On Friday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution that challenges the national monument and calls on the Trump administration to do what it can to revoke Bears Ears’ current status. The Utah State Senate also voted on a resolution calling for the federal government to rescind Obama’s proclamation.
As a result, Patagonia announced yesterday that it will pull out of the annual summer Outdoor Retailer trade show in Utah.
Patagonia’s decision to not show up for Outdoor Retailer comes a month after the company’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, accused Herbert and other political leaders in Utah of spending “years denigrating our public lands, the backbone of our business, and trying to sell them off to the highest bidder.”
Chouinard also chided Utah’s politicians for dismissing the value of public lands and outdoor recreation, which he claims generate $12 billion in consumer spending and support 122,000 jobs in the state.
Patagonia’s exit from Utah could be followed by the entire trade show as well. For 20 years, Outdoor Retailer, one of the largest outdoor clothing and gear events in North America, held its biannual trade show in Salt Lake City. But now the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), which operates the summer and winter shows at the Salt Palace Convention Center, says it will review proposals from other cities to host the events after its contract with Salt Lake City expires after 2018.
While the association did not explicitly mention the Bears Ears controversy, the OIA made it clear that it would “continue to educate policymakers on the economic contribution of our industry as well as our support of preserving places to recreate.”
Other outdoor gear and clothing companies could also follow Patagonia's lead. In an op-ed last month in the Salt Lake Tribune, Peter Metcalf, CEO of Black Diamond Equipment, noted that Outdoor Retailer generates at least $50 million in direct spending during its Utah events. But unless Utah's political leaders stop what he described as an "assault" on Utah's public lands, Metcalf suggested Outdoor Retailer find a new home.
"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," Metcalf wrote.
In addition to the outdoor recreation industry’s contribution to Utah’s economy, Native American leaders have emphasized the cultural significance of the Bears Ears monument to tribes in the southwestern U.S.
In an op-ed earlier this week, Carleton Bowekaty, a Zuni tribal council member and co-chair of the Bears Ears Intertribal-Coalition, expressed disappointment at both Utah’s state leaders and its U.S. congressional delegation. Calling Obama’s designation a victory for Native Americans, Bowekaty said the new national monument will attract more visitors while boosting responsible local economic development.
Obama’s Dec. 28 proclamation preserved a smaller area of land than what its proponents had originally requested. Native American groups originally proposed an area of 1.9 million acres, which they said would have preserved over 100,000 archaeological sites. Nevertheless, the new national monument ended a campaign that dragged over 80 years to preserve these lands. And according to author Jonathan Thompson, any mineral extraction or other economic activities within the designated monument area have long ceased.
“The only existing economy threatened by the Bears Ears National Monument is the pilfering and selling of antiquities,” Thompson wrote in a recent blog post.
Image credit: Bureau of Land Management/Flickr
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.