After Utah fallout, Bullock invites outdoor trade show to Montana

The Absaroka-Beartooth Front on the Montana-Wyoming border. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

A falling out between the Outdoor Industry Association and Utah’s political leaders over that state’s stance on public lands has sent the national trade show searching for a new home, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is rolling out the red carpet in hopes of landing the event.

Bullock on Tuesday sent a letter to Amy Roberts, the association’s executive director, highlighting Montana’s outdoor heritage, its recreational economy, its lack of a sales tax, and its strong advocacy for keeping public lands in public hands.

“In Montana, our public lands are our heritage – they’re our birthright,” Bullock said. “They are one of our great equalizers and they contribute to our rich quality of life. Put simply, our great outdoor heritage is part of who we are, an understanding that will stand the test of time.”

That issue lies at the heart of the disagreement between the Outdoor Industry Association and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. Joined by Patagonia, The North Face, REI and Outdoor Retailer, the association last week held a call with Herbert to discuss the value of public lands and maintaining public access for public recreation.

Roberts said the results of the call were disappointing.

“It’s clear that the governor has a different perspective on the protections of public lands from that of our members and the majority of Western state voters, both Republicans and Democrats,” said Roberts. “That’s bad for our American heritage, and it’s bad for our businesses. We are therefore continuing our search for a new home as soon as possible.”

Despite Utah’s outdoor opportunities, Roberts said the state’s elected officials have actively embraced the notion of transferring public lands to the state. The Utah Legislature recently passed a resolution, which Herbert signed, asking President Donald Trump to overturn at least one National Monument designation by executive order.

Among other things, the association has asked Herbert to stop Utah’s efforts to nullify the Antiquities Act, to embrace and support the recreation economy, and to halt any support of selling or transferring public lands back to the states.

“It’s disappointing Gov. Herbert and the Utah congressional delegation are in a different place from Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington, D.C., and across the country,” Roberts said. “Both President Trump and Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke have stated their support for keeping public lands public and accessible by all Americans.”

Looking to set Montana apart from Utah, Bullock noted the state’s adherence to the North American Model of Game Management and its statewide access program on private land. More than 1,180 landowners enrolled 7.2 million acres of land in the program in 2015, providing more than 360,000 days of hunting.

Bullock also highlighted Montana’s stream access laws and its business climate, noting the recent moniker used by Outside Magazine to describe the state as the “Silicon Valley for Outdoor Gear.”

(Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service)

“The outdoor industry and outdoor manufacturers are thriving in Montana,” Bullock said. “I would welcome the chance to explore this or other opportunities with the Outdoor Industry Association and its partners.”

A recent poll conducted by the Rockies Project at Colorado College may weigh in Montana’s favor and against the hard stance taken by Utah’s political leaders. Of those polled, 80 percent supported keeping monument designations in place, while just 13 percent wanted them removed.

The poll also found that 56 percent of respondents opposed turning public lands over to state control. When the poll was released, Bullock said Montana had “too much to lose” if it allowed its natural treasures to be placed at risk.

It’s a point on which the Outdoor Industry Association agrees. The association represents more than 1,200 outdoor businesses.

“It’s important to our membership, and to our bottom line, that we partner with states and elected officials who share our views on the truly unique American value of public lands for the people, and conserving our outdoor heritage for the next generation,” Roberts said.

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com