Dear Utah Tourism,
I need to explain why I won’t be attending your Travel Trade & Media Dinner in Toronto this spring. Fact is, I’m in awe of Utah’s manifold outdoor wonders and wanted to attend the dinner to learn more. But when I forwarded your email invitation to a colleague whom I hoped would accompany me, he responded with two words: “No Utah.” And then I remembered: Right! Utah. Bears Ears. Boycott…
I’ll back up a bit. In our crowded and fluctuating outdoor-media landscape, Utah is—fairly or not—associated with its state legislature’s ongoing attempt to rescind the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument, which former President Barack Obama signed into existence late last year. After Utah Governor Gary Herbert and other State Republicans began their legal challenge against the Monument designation, several giants of the outdoor industry including Arc’teryx, Patagonia and Polartec responded by boycotting Outdoor Retailer, a trade show held twice yearly in Salt Lake City.
More background: the “Bears Ears” are twin buttes that oversee a red-desert landscape of rivers, mountains, canyon systems, high mesas, Native American ruins, crags, juniper and piñon pine forests and large populations of black bear, mountain lion, mule deer and elk. Clearly this thick slice of southeastern Utah wilderness merits the status of U.S. National Monument just as Newfoundland’s Gros Morne fjords or B.C.’s Gwaii Haanas merited Canadian National Park protection. I accept that the issue is geopolitically complicated; Utah already boasts five National Parks (and nine Monuments) and the state legislature majority argue that they have their own, more sensible plan for protecting Bears Ears. But from what I understand, the state plan aims to diminish the footprint of the Monument and open up parts of it to resource exploration.
On February 16th, Outdoor Retailer announced that following an apparently inimical teleconference with Gov. Herbert, it “will not include the state of Utah in the RFP process for future show locations.” So it appears that the boycott has succeeded in punishing Utah for its policymakers’ attitude toward new National Monuments.
A new Monument, it seems to me, can’t be anything but a broad boost for sustainable tourism. And your policymakers’ opposition to Bears Ears has inadvertently made this Monument famous—another boost.
As I look out my window to a forest of snow-laden spruce trees, it’s difficult to imagine a sharper contrast than the phantasmagoric spires, domes and rock art of the public lands of the Colorado Plateau, whether in Capitol Reef, Canyonlands or Bears Ears. But for Canadians, the US National Parks and Monuments system is a longstanding inspiration. Alberta’s Banff National Park, our first, was established in 1887, 15 years after Wyoming’s Yellowstone—the world’s first. President Ulysses S. Grant, a Republican, signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act in 1872 from a bill promoted by a Republican-dominated Congress. The international impact of Yellowstone—at over 2 million acres, a public wilderness behemoth spanning three states—can’t be overestimated.
Although you probably can’t talk about it, Utah Tourism, I’m guessing that many of your staff support Bears Ears National Monument. A new Monument, it seems to me, can’t be anything but a broad boost for sustainable tourism. And your policymakers’ opposition to Bears Ears has inadvertently made this Monument famous—another boost. In spite of the serious legal threats to its existence from your own government, you continue to promote Bears Ears on your website and to me this clarifies your position.
By skipping your media dinner it may seem like I’m “punishing” you in my modest way for the actions of your Governor and the majority of your legislature. This isn’t the case. Your Canadian representation, Heather McGillivray, responded to my RSVP email telling me she would forward my objections to the Utah governor’s office. So I feel you understand that my decision to skip the dinner is not a snub directed at you.
Utah Tourism, I hope to meet you eventually and visit Bears Ears and your other parks and monuments. Your staff and our staff probably have a lot in common. In particular, I’m guessing, we share this trait: we’re happiest when outside, particularly in a wild and publicly accessible space—the bigger the better. See you out there soon, I hope.
Editor, Mountain Life Media
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