Lines are being drawn in the Outdoor Retailer battle for public lands

It all started when Patagonia and Arc’teryx pulled out of the Outdoor Retailer show in protest of the Utah government’s attack on public lands, specifically concerning the Bears Ears National Monument. Many feared a flood of other outdoor brands would follow, and some have, including Peak Design, Power Practical, and Polartec But other influential brands are doing the opposite. This week several companies aligned with the Outdoor Industry Alliance and committed to attending Outdoor Retailer in Utah. Their reasoning? A collective voice is louder than a fractured one, and that the outdoor industry as a whole will be weakened if brands like Patagonia take their ball away and go home.

The North Face, Ibex, Vasque and Utah-based Cotopaxi have all said they will keep attending Outdoor Retailer. On the retailer front, REI released a message in support of industry unity during this time of conflict. REI Co-op CEO, Jerry Stritzke, says when he learned about the Utah legislature and Governor Herbert’s effort to rescind protection of the Bears Ears National Monument, he was “mad as hell and disappointed.” But that the real battle for public lands lies in the hands of the federal government, not the states, and the outdoor industry must be united when bringing their concerns to the table in Washington D.C.

“I believe it would be a mistake for us not to gather as an industry this July. Now more than ever, we need to act together to advocate and find a common voice to protect our most important asset — our public lands. To be clear, REI is strongly in the camp of moving OR if Utah persists in attacking our public lands – the sooner the better,” Stritzke said in a statement.

“REI will be at Summer OR. We will also show up at every opportunity to advance the conversation in support of our public lands. We will stand up to politicians who would deprive our children and grandchildren of the legacy of public lands and all the majesty and wonder that they protect. We think it is more important than ever to come together as an outdoor community and make our voice heard. I hope that even those companies that have had the courage to make a statement by indicating a willingness to walk away from Utah due to their attack on public lands might consider making a trip to OR this July. I would like to see our community get together and pay a visit to the Utah state government and let them know how we feel about their disregard for our public lands!”

You can read REI’s full statement here.

But not all who will be attending Outdoor Retailer this July will do it happily. Ibex says they will be there, but with a smaller team and budget. They also say they will not recreate while in Utah and will donate $10,000 to The Conservation Alliance Public Land Defense Fund.

“Outdoor Retailer cannot stay in Utah,” said Ted Manning, CEO of Ibex Outdoor Clothing in the press release. “And until it moves out of the state, we as a company are taking decisive action to stand up for our public lands and conservation. There is no longer space for a business like Ibex to sit on the sidelines. Our goal has been, and will always be, to bring to bear all that this brand can muster in defense and amplification of our values.”

Scott Baxter, President of The North Face, sent a letter to the industry asking stakeholders to continue to support Outdoor Retailer. Here is the letter in its entirety:

“To our industry partners and friends,

“For more than 50 years, we’ve fought to protect our wild places because our public lands are one of the most vital shared spaces of our civilization. We see the decisions of the Utah policy makers as direct and irrefutable threats to what we hold most dear. We will not sit back. We will press these issues, taking them as far as we need to until we see the safety and protection of our public lands made secure.

“We believe we can be most effective in this cause by staying at the OR show at this time. To honor the foundation upon which our brand was built – is to support and rally for our shared beliefs together. As with many issues, there is no simple answer. Leaving the OR show, as others have stated they will do, is a clear message that we hope impacts the decision making of those sitting in the Utah State Capitol. However, it unfortunately also means devastating many of the smaller businesses that attend OR, many of which depend upon their time at the show. Leaving OR would mean throwing hurdles in the way of important work that NGOs and non-profits are doing for the very causes we’re today fighting for – saving our public lands from commercial development and devastating energy infrastructure. Leaving OR would also mean removing ourselves from the coalitions and partnerships that focus real time and money on pushing new standards in sustainability, materials development, manufacturing, and other initiatives that make us all better businesses and corporate citizens. We want progress and it takes a unified industry to get there.

“Most importantly, no one company can create the change that we need right now. It will take every brand, every partner, every soul to fight. We must be louder and stronger than our opposition and that means everyone coming together. We can’t do that if we leave the OIA to fight on their own – with fewer resources.

“We agree that OR should leave Utah, but we’re going to help the OIA and Outdoor Retailer search for a new, better location. In the meantime, we’re going to let Utah know how we feel. We are working on this right now and when we arrive in July, we will not leave without making our values and concerns heard – that public lands need to remain public. We can only be effective if we show up, gear up, and lead up.

“Please join us in this fight.”

The lines are drawn and outdoor brands are taking different approaches on how to handle Utah’s antagonistic assault on public lands. One thing is for sure – the halls at the Salt Palace will seem a bit more empty when the trade show returns this July.