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Outdoor Industry Underscores Value of Utah's Public Lands

Judy Fahys
Companies say an important reason for keeping the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City is its close proximity to extraordinary landscapes and places to recreate. They want Utah politicians to understand its value too.

The outdoor industry’s winter trade show is back at the Salt Palace Convention Center, along with that ever-present tension between Utah politicians and companies that depend on the state’s extraordinary landscapes.

Hundreds of companies have gathered more than 20,000 people at the massive Outdoor Retailer trade show. They’re talking up the latest outdoor clothing and recreation gear on the exhibit floor.

Some are also discussing what Utah businessman Peter Metcalf is saying about Utah politics.

“It’s gone from bad to worse to absolutely criminal,” says Metcalf, “the attack on public lands, the attempt to appropriate public lands from the federal government, the attack on the Antiquities Act, starving funding.”

He’s called on the industry to move its $50 million trade show from Utah as a result. It’s a threat that’s been made before successfully. It brought Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert to the bargaining table and later to create a new state Office of Outdoor Recreation as a liaison with companies that employ more people than Utah’s oil and gas industry.

“I’m definitely concerned and will take heed,” says Tom Adams, who oversees the Outdoor Recreation office. “But I think the collaboration that we have with all the stakeholders will be successful.”

The national Outdoor Industry Association signaled a middle ground Tuesday, pledging to keep working with Utah leaders to preserve landscapes and waterways that are critical to the outdoor recreation economy.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox is scheduled to tour the show Wednesday, and the conservation debate is expected to continue at least until the show ends on Thursday.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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