The American outdoor industry reacted strongly to President Donald Trump's decision to shrink the size of two “national monuments” in the state of Utah, paving the way for mining, oil drilling and other industrial activities in areas that are presently reserved for outdoor activities.
By executive order, President Trump decided to reduce the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and that of the Grand Staircase Escalante by about 50 percent. They had been created by President Clinton and Obama.
The National Resources Defense Council, the National Parks Conservation Association and nine other organizations have filed suit in a Washington court, claiming that the Trump administration exceeded its authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Patagonia, The North Face and other industry leaders have pledged to finance the legal effort, which will probably last for years.
The plaintiffs stated that the President's proclamation is “contrary to law, ignores overwhelming public support for the original monument designation, and dishonors Native American heritage and culture.”
Before their decision to go to court, Patagonia came out with a dramatic message on its website, saying that “The President Stole Your Land.” The Outdoor Conservation Alliance said it would donate $75,000 to fight the move in court. TNF pledged a donation of $100,000 for an education center outside of Bears Ears.
President Trump's action could have been broader. Ryan Zinke, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, had reportedly recommended the reduction in the size of four national monuments, in addition to lifting current restrictions on grazing, logging, coal mining and commercial fishing for ten monuments. He reacted to Patagonia's latest message by accusing the company that it “would blatantly lie in order to gain money in their coffers.”
Prior to his recommendations, Zinke had received letters signed by the executives of 350 large and small outdoor companies, asking him to protect monument designations because of the impact on the outdoor industry. They asked him to protect America's public lands and waters, which “are parts of America's shared heritage and are hallmarks of who we are as Americans.”
The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) said it viewed President Trump's announcement as detrimental to the U.S. outdoor recreation economy, which generates annual revenues of $887 million, and to the 7.6 million American jobs it supports.
The proposal made by the government of Utah to reduce the size of the Bears Ears national monument led the U.S. outdoor industry last spring to pull the Outdoor Retailer trade show out of Utah and to transfer it to Denver, Colorado. During the last summer edition of the show, 3,000 people marched to the Utah Capitol to protest against its policies. Their action triggered over 60,000 hits in the social media.
Evidently, the fight for the preservation of public lands is uniting the American outdoor industry, giving it a mission that resonates with consumers. Taking the floor during the European Outdoor Summit held two months ago in Treviso, Amy Roberts, executive director of the OIA, told the audience that the challenging political situation in Washington and the debate about the use of public land had created a “differentiator” for the industry on what the outdoor brands stand for, speaking out with “a collective voice.” The Advocacy Action Center has become the most read section of OIA's website.
There are 129 “national monuments” in the U.S., and many of them are natural parks. Last April 26, the White House decided to review 26 national monuments by executive order for mining, oil and gas exploration and other purposes. It was the first time that a president of the U.S. had taken such an action.
The reaction of the U.S. industry has been remarkable. Instead of talking about their products, companies like Patagonia, The North Face and REI communicated about the preservation of the outdoor culture and the promotion of outdoor activities.
Patagonia engaged 230,000 consumers on its website to make more than 200 hours of calls to the White House and the Department of the Interior and sponsored the first TV ad in the states of Montana and Utah, worth $700,000, for the conservation of public land.
REI, a big American outdoor retail coop with four million members, urged the readers of its widely read publication to make comments to the Department of the Interior before July 10. Over 100 companies signed a joint letter, published in the Washington Post, about the value of America's “great outdoors.”
Commenting on Roberts' speech, Mark Held, secretary general of the European Outdoor Group, said somewhat jokingly in Treviso that he would like to see a march of 5,000 people in Brussels to call for more funding for outdoor recreation, but admitted that, unlike the U.S., the political system in Europe tends to be quite protective of nature and consumers' rights.
On the other hand, Held warned about a worrying tendency to believe that the European Commission will do whatever it wants, irrespective of lobbying efforts. He said that the European outdoor industry is capable of coming together to help promote the consumers' participation in outdoor activities, in spite of a diversity in cultures and languages, but “we don't act or react quickly.”