Outdoor Retailers, here at a convention demo, want to stay in SLC because nearby mountains allow real-world testing.

The outdoor recreation industry, Metcalf says, particularly the firms located in Utah—including Salomon, Suunto, Black Diamond, Easton, Gregory Mountain Products, Petzl and Rossignol—are business people who share the same faith in free enterprise as Utah’s lawmakers.

“These lands are integral to the success and vibrancy of the outdoor industry. They are defining to the West and are integral to Utah’s economy,” Metcalf says. “We are just asking for the governor to not be engaged in some kind of bizarre, demonic attack on the vibrancy and beauty this industry is built upon.”

Rep. Ken Ivory, a West Jordan Republican who proposed the bill last year demanding the federal government turn over as much as 30 million acres of land to the state, says the outdoor industry’s fear mongering about state land management is insulting. “It’s silly,” he says. “How have we existed as a state this long and not destroyed everything? That says the people of Utah aren’t good enough or smart enough, to manage their own land.”

The outdoor industry’s rhetoric has more to do with forcing government aid in expanding Salt Lake’s convention facilities, including a proposal to publicly subsidize a new hotel, Ivory says. “We know from history they will use any lever to gain advantage.”

In other words, the outdoor retailers are sharp businessmen.

Herbert Under Pressure

The Capitol office of Alan Matheson, Herbert’s environmental advisor, is decorated with photographs of climbing and Utah’s canyons, much like Metcalf’s office at Black Diamond. Tall and fit, Matheson is an avid fly fisherman and bicyclist. He says Herbert is keenly aware of the economics of the recreation industry, particularly the trade shows. “We are taking active steps to keep them here.” 

Alan Matheson, the governor’s chief environmental advisor, must forge a compromise on land use.

Last September, Matheson began formulating a plan to address the outdoor retailers’ concerns. He envisioned creating a study group before the market in January and had opened talks with industry leaders to discuss land policies. “There’s this perception that there is a war brewing or well underway [between Herbert’s administration and the outdoor industry],” he says. “It is a relationship that is continuing to build.”

But Matheson emphasizes that the public lands controversy is only a sideshow to what it will take to keep the rapidly expanding outdoor shows in Salt Lake City. The real challenges are logistical—hotel rooms and exhibit space. The clash over lands is an example of the industry testing its increasing clout, he says. “This is a growing and powerful industry. They are trying to figure out if they [can] exert political influence commensurate with their economic influence and how, when and where to flex that muscle,” Matheson says.

But Metcalf is fearless about taking his industry into a very political conflict. “We’re telling the governor, ‘It’s crazy you are doing this, and we are going to challenge you. If you do not change these things, we will be very public in our opposition.’”

A Clash with Deep Roots

Ownership of land has always been polarizing in Utah. Ivory and his allies, including U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, see it as a sacred last stand to limit federal power. Opponents say it could destroy any hope of additional wilderness areas and obliterate Utah’s reputation as one of the last wild places in North America if Ivory and his supporters succeed.

Such black-and-white approaches make compromise nearly impossible. Matheson’s challenge is to find middle ground. “People think it is either energy development or outdoor recreation,” he says. “The governor has said repeatedly it is not either/or.”

Most Utahns, he says, want a balance, protecting most wild lands, but exploiting some for education funding. “We as a people living in this state need to have a voice in managing these lands,” Matheson says. “[Ivory’s legislation] is a way to reignite that dialogue and allow us to manage our lands in a way that provides for the tax base but also protects the great public lands.”

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