Pave the Bears Ears
More Dogs on Main
February 24, 2017
Outdoor Retailer convention has pulled out of Utah and is looking for a new home. It's a threat they have been making for several years, and finally made good on it. The principle they were defending is important, and the move is something they should be proud of.
The convention, which is an overwhelming trade show for everything used in the outdoors with the exception of bikes (but there was talk of moving Interbike here), was a big piece of business.
The Salt Palace Convention Center was expanded in part to keep the convention here. In addition to hotels and restaurants, there are dozens of other businesses that make good money from the show. That's everything from the people who build the exhibitors' booths to the drivers who move them around Salt Lake. Park City enjoyed a fair amount of spill over from it.
The convention itself became a symbol of a Utah outdoor ethos. Following the Olympics, the state very deliberately pursued a policy of developing outdoor recreation as a core industry. There are trails that came about because of that, with modest legislative funding for conservation purposes. The National Parks are packed. There was an active and successful recruitment of outdoor recreation businesses. Ogden, which had never quite recovered from the demise of passenger rail travel, suddenly became a magnet for recreation companies. The OR show was the cherry on top.
It was the legislative equivalent of crushing a beer can on your head to let everybody else know how tough you are. Only in this case, given the make-up of the Legislature, it was probably a Mountain Dew can.
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At the same time, a particularly virulent strain of redneckism took hold. It had been festering since the Sagebrush Rebellion when Reagan was president, but really took hold.
It was a movement that believed the federal lands in Utah should be "given back" to the state of Utah. Never mind that those lands were never Utah's to begin with. The feds stole it from Mexico, and whatever didn't get taken up under the Homestead Act, simply remained in federal ownership. In the remote corners of Southern Utah and Nevada, the sense was that because the same ranching families had been leasing the grazing from the federal government for generations, they somehow owned it.
For years, Congressman Rob Bishop has ridden that movement, and kept trying to get legislation passed to give the federal lands in Utah to the state. It's probably a reflection on the esteem his congressional colleagues have for him that it never made it out of committee. But he persists.
The movement occasionally erupts in violent ways, like the Cliven Bundy incident in Nevada and later in Oregon. Things got hot when Clinton used the Antiquities Act to declare the Grand Staircase National Monument — from Arizona. The fever that set off never broke. And then Obama did it again with the Bears Ears. The people who live in the counties affected are opposed to it, and don't want the changes it will bring about. They worry about loss of control, and also becoming the next Park City or Moab, which is definitely something to worry about.
The Utah Legislature decided it had enough. A couple of years ago, it authorized a pot of cash, $12 or $14 million for a long-shot lawsuit to force the feds to transfer the land to Utah. Nobody thinks it has a chance of prevailing, but the symbolism of it seemed important.
So Outdoor retailers responded with their own symbolism, and said they would find a new home if Utah persisted in trying to gain control of the federal lands. The concern is that our legislature is incapable of appreciating the beauty of the desert landscapes, and would prefer an oil derrick under Delicate Arch and a strip mine on the Kaiparowits Plateau. Sell it off to the highest bidder because they have no clue how to pay to manage it — if they managed it at all. The OR group said the beauty of the public land is fundamental to people wanting to recreate there (and buy their products), and if anything, thought more federal management was in order.
It was a collision course. This year, the Legislature adopted a resolution demanding that President Trump rescind the Bears Ears designation, and shrink the Grand Staircase, so the good people of Utah can ride their ATVs through 1,000-year-old ruins as God intended. It was the legislative equivalent of crushing a beer can on your head to let everybody else know how tough you are. Only in this case, given the make-up of the Legislature, it was probably a Mountain Dew can.
There is outrage that this business, OR, is trying to dictate what state government does. Who do they think they are? Everybody knows that's the exclusive province of the realtors.
The Utah policy is just plain backward. The OR group should be proud of their stand. I just wish the voters of Utah would follow.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.