Why Patagonia, and then Arc’teryx, pulled stake in Outdoor Retailer, and how the outdoor industry is gearing up to fight for public lands.
by Doug Schnitzspahn, Men’s Journal
In January, on the opening day of the Outdoor Retailer trade show, where hundreds of brands, from The North Face to Woolrich, debut their latest goods, Black Diamond founder and former CEO Peter Metcalf published an editorial in The Salt Lake Tribune. In it he demanded that the show pack up and move out of the state, where it’s been held for the last 20 years. Metcalf ’s logic was simple: Utah’s governor and its legislators were in the midst of, as he characterized it, an “all-out assault” on public lands.
The outdoor industry, for much of its existence, has been careful not to take partisan sides and, perhaps as a result, has been dismissed by Washington insiders as a loose collection of dirtbag climbers and tree huggers, rather than the thriving, tech-driven sector of the economy that it is.
In 2012 the Utah State Legislature passed a bill demanding that 31 million acres of federally managed public land be transferred to the state, after which some of it would most likely be sold off to the highest bidder. Today, Utah lawmakers continue to push divestiture, and are pushing to shrink or scrap national monuments in the state, including the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument. And they’ve been unabashedly promoting the interests of mining and other extractive industries over outdoor recreation, the latter of which adds an estimated $12 billion per year to the state’s economy and supports some 120,000 jobs. The Outdoor Retailer show itself, held twice a year, brings in $50 million to Utah, and dozens of outdoor companies — including Metcalf’s Black Diamond, as well as Petzl, Gregory Mountain Products, and others — are based in the state. And the state’s largest industry, tech, relies on Utah’s recreational opportunities and quality of life to lure talent to the state. So why shouldn’t the outdoor industry, with a massive economic impact on the state, have a say in government policy that ultimately affects their customers and bottom line?
“Politicians in Utah don’t seem to get that the outdoor industry — and their own state economy — depends on access to public lands for recreation.”
“Political officials,” Metcalf declared, “neglect the critical role public lands play in boosting Utah’s economy, making the state a great place to live, work, and play.”
Soon after Metcalf ’s salvo, other outdoor businesses followed suit. Yvon Chouinard, founder of apparel icon Patagonia, wrote his own op-ed titled “The Outdoor Industry Loves Utah; Does Utah Love the Outdoor Industry?” In it he threatened to pull his company’s participation from the show if Utah continued to push for rescinding Bears Ears, which Barack Obama designated before he left office. Indeed, a week later, after Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill requesting President Trump delist Bears Ears, Patagonia announced it was pulling out of Outdoor Retailer. Arc’teryx was the next domino to fall, and they agreed to donate the money they would have spent on the show to the Conservation Alliance’s new Public Lands Defense Fund.