“Outdoor Recreation” Industry Goes Political- What’s the Battle of Bears Ears Really About?

The Outdoor Retailer and Snow Show held its first event in Denver this week at the Colorado Convention Center. Thanks to Jennifer Yachnin/E&E News

For those of you who haven’t been involved in Interior West public lands drama, the Outdoor Industry decided to move their annual trade show to Denver from Salt Lake City because of a disagreement with elected officials about Bears Ears.

As it turns out in this E&E News story, apparently that industry has decided to become more politically active:

Peak politics
Roberts said OIA will aim to maintain that newfound engagement among its members in coming months, vowing to hold members of Congress accountable on public lands positions as well as unveiling new programs — including a congressional scorecard and a voter education program.

“I think our opportunity is to go into those areas where we know voters are really concerned about these issues and talk about the importance of the outdoor recreation economy to their state, the opportunity in building an economy that’s built on outdoor recreation, especially for rural areas,” Roberts said. “I think we have a responsibility to raise awareness … so that voters are thinking about that when they go to the polls, and they think about who best represents them.”

Roberts pointed to the latest Conservation in the West Poll released by Colorado College this week, which shows more voters self-identifying as conservationists (Greenwire, Jan. 25).

During a panel discussion on the poll’s results, Roberts also said OIA members will focus more on congressional primary contests, which has not been a priority in past election cycles.

“We have to think as an industry, in districts where it’s likely a Republican is going to be elected, what’s the opportunity in a primary there?” Roberts said. “We know that voters who are identifying as Republicans also care about conservation issues.

This sounds like a full court press (with conveniently released Colorado college polling figures we’d discussed here) and op-eds released at the same time, this one by a Winter Olympian (really?), published by the Colorado Springs Gazette here.

Hearing that the Trump administration has opted to shrink some of our nation’s most treasured national monuments is deeply upsetting to me.

On top of this, lawmakers recently introduced legislation to further secure these reductions to our monuments. These actions are so shocking to me, especially given that the public is so clearly opposed to the idea. Many of these public lands play a critical role in our history, and I can’t imagine getting rid of these protections.

I don’t get the linkage between Bears Ears and their industry. Usually industry folk want reduced tariffs for items they import, and reduced regulation (like streamlining NEPA for guided recreation), but it seems like there is a preference for Monuments and Parks over Forests and BLM.

Is “access” a codeword for Parkification? Who is leading this full court press? Why did they pick Bears Ears, and why are they still going after it? Do current Forest Service and BLM visitors not buy enough Patagonian doo-dads?

35 thoughts on ““Outdoor Recreation” Industry Goes Political- What’s the Battle of Bears Ears Really About?”

  1. Sharon, the monuments in question are all managed by the BLM and USFS. It’s not a matter of who’s managing it – it’s a question of how it’s going to be managed and what is prioritized: conservation and recreation, or oil, gas and grazing. Monument status ensures the former, and that’s clearly not what this administration is interested in.

    • well..no it’s not exactly that.

      BLM and FS have statutory requirements for what they manage and are required to do NEPA and full scale public involvement exercises to help make those decisions. A Monument designation overrides those processes. It is a choice, in this case of political will to say
      “existing statutes and case law are not good enough to manage this particular chunk of land, it needs something more and we have the political power to do that and make it stick.”

      And only some forms of recreation are prioritized and others are not. I am not concerned about this
      federal administration this or that federal administration that, but I am concerned about the attitude toward State and local governments and elected officials.

      • Then why did you create a false dichotomy between “Monuments and Parks” and “Forests and BLM”? The two are eminently compatible. National forests have successfully managed national monuments for nearly 40 years – Misty Fjords and Admiralty Island attest to that. BLM has successfully managed national monuments since 1996.

        Setting up the Forest Service and BLM as somehow hostile to, or in opposition of, national monuments, is counterproductive and backward. We can take pride in our stewardship of some of America’s most treasured landscapes.

      • Sharon — Most national forests were reserved by presidential fiat; no public involvement or planning process. Would these lands have been protected from disposal and for the public’s benefit any other way?

        • That was before laws were passed for formalizing how allocation decisions within federal public lands were to be made, for the public’s benefit, as you say, including public involvement and NEPA. It seems to me that it’s hard to argue that public comment and NEPA really help with decisions and are important… except when they’re not.

          • Most land allocation decisions are made by the political branches — Congress (e.g., wilderness, wild & scenic rivers, National Parks) and the President (Monuments). NEPA, on the other hand, is for administrative actions, such as logging. It is precisely the lack of political accountability inherent in agencies (bureaucrats are not elected) that NEPA seeks to reform.

            • Andy, to my thinking agencies are part of the Executive branch. If you want to say get rid of oil and gas leasing, you can do it in a forest plan, oil and gas leasing decision, Roadless Rule and so on. Those potentially lengthy processes that have formal public involvement, NEPA . What Monuments seem to do is throw out existing plans and make agencies make new plans with the requirements in the designation. NEPA sought to help government decisionmakers look at the environmental consequences before they made a decision.- I don’t think it had anything to do with lack of political accountability.

              • NEPA applies only to certain actions taken by agencies. NEPA does not apply to any action taken by the president, i.e., an executive order. There is a significant constitutional distinction — the separation-of-powers doctrine — between the president and the executive agencies. Another example — the Administrative Procedures Act applies only to agency actions, not to presidential actions. The notion that agencies work only for the president is inaccurate and simplistic. The president and political appointees administer the day-to-day work of agencies, but most of the rules and purposes that define their actions are set by Congress, not the President.

                • No, Andy, separation of powers is not between the President and executive agencies.
                  Here’s a Wikipedia link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_powers
                  they are separated among the executive, judicial and legislative branches.

                  I understand that legally the President does not have to apply NEPA analysis and formal public comment in making Antiquity Act decisions. My point was “if it’s a good thing to do in general, why not?” Perhaps it could be argued that this section might be used to justify it

                  “NEPA Sec. 102 [42 USC § 4332]. The Congress authorizes and directs that, to the fullest extent possible: (1) the policies, regulations, and public laws of the United States shall be interpreted and administered in accordance with the policies set forth in this Act, ” if we interpret the Antiquities Act as a “public law”..

                  • NEPA is not required to stop development activities. To the extent there needs to be a political process, the Antiquities Act is the process Congress designed for national monument withdrawals. Congress could make it an administrative agency process like forest planning, but we would probably end up with “recommended” monuments that are in perpetual limbo because of local objections to national interests.

                    My theory – Congress felt they needed a process that could be quick to protect areas from threats. It could then choose to work on a longer-term solution if needed. The “urgency” rationale doesn’t apply to “unprotecting” areas and so the Antiquities Act doesn’t authorize a president to do that.

                    • Jon- don’t forget that this was 1906. I don’t think that they had a long-term solution.. I think the designation was it. And I think when those legislators wrote the plain language of the bill they weren’t thinking millions of acres.

      • The Bears Ears monument designation came after literally decades of public support and agitation, numerous public hearings, advisory committees, discussions and a full and fair debate in the court of public opinion. This was not some “bolt from the blue,” but a fully-considered use of an authorized presidential power. The fact that the then-current Congress was hostile to any meaningful legislative solution to protecting the region left only one choice to get anything done – the one Congress itself created in 1906 by writing the Antiquities Act.

        Whether or not a state’s own legislators are in favor of a particular land designation is something which should be considered in any process (and was) but should not be uniquely dispositive – the entire point of holding federal public lands is to manage them with broader national interests in mind, rather than exclusively local ones. (This is particularly relevant given that Utah’s legislative delegation is bought and paid for by extractive industries.) Public opinion polls about the monuments have shown broad support nationally and even solid support within Utah.

        • Travis, please post the timeline of decades of public involvement for this effort.
          We can disagree as to whether this kind of Monument was actually authorized by the Antiquities Act.
          Wow.. “bought and paid for” I guess representative democracy is also something that is important, until it isn’t, kind of like NEPA.
          This is the last poll I looked at.. https://www.sltrib.com/news/environment/2017/10/24/majority-of-utahns-favor-trimming-bears-ears-but-most-oppose-breaking-up-grand-staircase-poll-says/

          • There is no disagreement whether the monument was authorized by the Antiquities Act – it plainly was and is, by the plain language of the statute and by countless court decisions upholding every single presidential use of the law. You can say you don’t like the use of the law, that’s fair enough – but to say that the designation of Bears Ears was in any way improper or unlawful is simply flat-out wrong as a matter of law.

            • Travis.. you state that “there is no disagreement.”Here is the plain language of the statute- I italicized the relevant part. I guess I can disagree with courts in interpreting, and I don’t think courts are always right.

              “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person who shall appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, without the permission of the Secretary of the Department of the Government having jurisdiction over the lands on which said antiquities are situated, shall, upon conviction, be fined in a sum of not more than five hundred dollars or be imprisoned for a period of not more than ninety days, or shall suffer both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.

              Sec. 2. That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected:
              Provided, That when such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bona fied unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in behalf of the Government of the United States.

              Sec. 3. That permits for the examination of ruins, the excavation of archaeological sites, and the gathering of objects of antiquity upon the lands under their respective jurisdictions may be granted by the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and War to institutions which the may deem properly qualified to conduct such examination, excavation, or gathering, subject to such rules and regulation as they may prescribe: Provided, That the examinations, excavations, and gatherings are undertaken for the benefit of reputable museums, universities, colleges, or other recognized scientific or educational institutions, with a view to increasing the knowledge of such objects, and that the gatherings shall be made for permanent preservation in public museums.

              Sec. 4. That the Secretaries of the Departments aforesaid shall make and publish from time to time uniform rules and regulations for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this Act.”

              Maybe they did establish rules and regulations (as required by statute) but I can still disagree that they follow the plain language of the law.

              • The law is the law. No one has ever challenged successfully in court a president’s national monument declaration, whether to establish a monument or to modify its boundaries. There is a tried-and-true remedy for those who don’t like the law; persuade the people’s elected representatives to change it. Politicians, including the president, are accountable to the people. Agency bureaucrats are not.

              • Sharon, the law does not set any sort of limit on the size of a national monument – it simply says “the smallest area compatible.” What is “the smallest area compatible”? There is no definition – the Antiquities Act, to borrow from another famous public lands decision, “breathes discretion at every pore.” Congress has not set a standard, so there can be no objective stick to measure. Hence, “the smallest area compatible” is whatever the president says it is. That’s not my opinion, that’s the standing judicial interpretation of the law.

                The argument you appear to be making has been repeatedly and strongly rejected by every level of the federal court system. You are free to believe whatever you want, but those beliefs don’t control the operation of the law.

                • I didn’t say my read did “control the operation of the law”. If this were any other kind of federal lands decision, someone would have to document why they thought it was “the smallest area compatible.” Yes, the President can do whatever he or she wants, I agree but the rest of us, even those who aren’t judges, can have opinions about the plain language read of the statute.

  2. I’m curious — why so much antipathy and skepticism towards the outdoor recreation industry becoming politically active on public land issues, yet the political activity of resource extraction industries gets a free pass?

    • I am very on board with this comment.

      Not supporting outdoor recreation through funding allocations is an active political decision. There’s no financial reason we cannot quickly wipe out deferred maintenance backlogs across all public lands without nickel-and-diming people with fees. There’s no financial reason why we cannot fully staff parks and forests, and support enough specialists to address social/recreational/scenic concerns in project development and analysis. There’s no financial reason why public lands agencies can’t be enthusiastic partners willing to experiment instead of shivering penny-pinchers afraid to do anything new. We as a country can easily afford to do all of those things. We don’t because there’s not a large enough political force out there yet bearing down on elected officials to make sure public lands are supported.

      It’s past time the recreation industry started wielding the national political power they have just by the size of their economic impact.

      • Jesse, but that’s not what they’re doing.. they’re not asking for more $ for the FS, not even for a wildfire funding bill, they’re going after Bears Ears. Bears Ears they can reverse in three years with another D President if they want. So whassup?

        I’m also not sure the country can “easily afford it” but that’s a separate issue.

  3. Nope, they don’t get a pass. But I don’t know anyone that doesn’t take them with several grains of salt.
    This industry, on the other hand, is creating a message that doesn’t exist in my mind Public Lands Are Under Threat by grazing and oil and gas! Republicans are the Problem!

    When it may be more accurate to say Public Lands are Under Threat by many different things including too many recreationists! Mountain bike trails! and so on… Neighbors that cut off access..

    Why don’t we all work together on figuring out what we can do regardless of partisan inclinations? That’s what an FS or BLM planning process does. Not what the Monument designation process did.

  4. Maybe some folks in the Outdoor Recreation industry really do care about protecting the natural, cultural and archeological resources of quality public lands. Maybe that is also what is motivating much of the public.

    • I care about them too, but I wonder whether funds could be better spent say helping BLM with law enforcement (hiring more folks) than conducting long term media campaigns over land designation.

      If Monument designation thwarted pothunters that would be good, but I don’t think it does. Also Monumentization can attract more people.. not good for carbon (cars driving) water (people drinking) – a beautiful place can become commercialized and housing becomes too expensive so that local folks can’t afford to live there. Parking, traffic and so on. It sounds good “let’s protect it!” the devil is in the details.. what are you protecting it from? and does your idea of “protection” lead to unintended negative environmental and social consequences to the local people?

  5. Sharon says,

    I don’t get the linkage between Bears Ears and their industry. Usually industry folk want reduced tariffs for items they import, and reduced regulation (like streamlining NEPA for guided recreation), but it seems like there is a preference for Monuments and Parks over Forests and BLM.

    This tension has been around for a long time. As I recall John Muir and Gifford Pinchot squared off on this very point re: Hetch Hetchy. Muir was arguing for preservation and spiritual retreat while Pinchot went for utilitarian “needs.” Hetch Hetchy was dammed, and much splendor lost. But San Francisco got the water they lobbied for. I see this issue to be the same, only now its uranium, coal and natural gas instead of water. And that was just a beginning to the controversy/tension over preservation v use on public lands.

    But I also see, as does Patagonia, bigger things at stake. This from their website:

    The Activist Company
    We believe the environmental crisis has reached a critical tipping point. Without commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, defend clean water and air, and divest from dirty technologies, humankind as a whole will destroy our planet’s ability to repair itself. At Patagonia, the protection and preservation of the environment isn’t what we do after hours. It’s the reason we’re in business and every day’s work.

    The Utah Delegation has made no secret of their hostility to federal lands and/or federal administration of all federal lands pretty much since federal lands reservation first appeared in 1891. Well maybe not all the time, but periodically. Right now there is legislation in the works to transfer much federal land to the western states. Who do you think is spearheading this effort?The Utah Delegation and friends:

    In 2015, [Rob] Bishop and fellow Utah representative Chris Stewart formed the Federal Land Action Group, a congressional team with the specific intent to come up with a framework for transferring public land. “Washington bureaucrats don’t listen to people,” Bishop said in a statement. “Local governments do.”

    From: Congress just made it easier to sell off federal land, including national parks

    No surprise Patagonia and friends left Utah, and no surprise they are increasingly politically active.

    • “Hetch Hetchy was dammed, and much splendor lost. But San Francisco got the water they lobbied for. I see this issue to be the same, only now its uranium, coal and natural gas instead of water.”

      There is, I think, a very critical reason why the issue now is not the same, or at least is not perceived that way: the water produced by damming Hetch Hetchy benefited a great many people. The profits produced by uranium, coal and other public lands resource extraction do *not* benefit a great many people. (Or so the perception goes; I’m not going to try and adjudicate those claims in this space.)

      A few working-class people and locals get the crumbs that fall off the table, so to speak, but most of the money is going to upper management and capital holders. Meanwhile the environmental and opportunity costs get sloughed onto the public.

      If public lands are being used to support prosperous, fair, resilient rural economies, most people — including most environmentalists — have no problem whatsoever with that. If they’re used to support the economics of the Zinke class, it’s a different story.

      • Point well taken, Woodpecker. I thought about adding to my earlier comment, and should have, that the whole issue with Hetch Hetchy might have come down to alternative dam sites that were never considered. Or maybe not. Maybe that WAS the only viable place to locate a dam for San Francisco. I don’t know. All I know was that the fight happened then, and that there haven’t been many (any?) easy designations of a national monument since. And that I don’t believe that Utah would have any of our many splendid national monuments or parks had the matter been left to the realm of “collaboration” with the locals. Many here in Utah support the monuments and parks now. But that support had to build over time. It was not there for any of them at the time they were designated. The roots of the Sagebrush Rebellion(s) run deep here in the Wild West.

        P.S. Tongue in cheek: What is it that you don’t understand about the glorious future for “clean coal” and fracked petrochemicals that will free us from dependence on mideastern oil. Not to mention the bright prospects for a reinvigorated uranium energy future. Long live the “Lords of Yesterday.”

  6. Gee Sharon, I must have missed your blog posts wondering about the fact that the Koch Brothers and resource exploitation industry are getting “politically active.”

    BTW, tremendous comments up above by many folks…Thank you and please keep speaking out on this blog and elsewhere.

    • Matthew- the outdoor industry is choosing political activity when they could be directly helping the agency with their programs. Like I said, if you’re worried about vandalism give money to BLM to do more law enforcement, don’t try to elect people who might, someday, if your money works and you are lucky, influence the top of the 25 layers of federal budgeting. My concern is pragmatic .. if you want x, this is the most direct route to obtain it.

      • Do you know for certain that the “outdoor industry” is not “directly helping the agency with their programs?”

        In my view you still are not making a solid case why, in America, the Outdoor Industry should not engage in politics to protect a public resource and public lands laws, rules and regulations…especially given the views of their employees and customers. You just always seem to want to pick on folks on the left/green side of the equation and do, in my view, pretty much give the right/extraction side of the equation a pass.

        But whatever….

        • Matthew, I could say the opposite about you. But that’s what makes our blog what it is.. all different points of view are represented.

    • No sorry I used the word “vandalism” with regard to its definition “action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property.” I actually meant theft, destruction or damage and was talking about archaeological artifacts.


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