Another Outdoor Retailer, another opportunity to call for political and social changes

Posted on: January 29, 2020


Another Outdoor Retailer is upon us. Much is the same, yet different.

There's no denying that the OR trade show represents more than it once did. The presence of the event in Denver is testament to a decisive moment in May 2017 when the organizers decided to move it away from Salt Lake City, Utah in protest—after Utah state lawmakers had urged the Trump administration to rescind or reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. This week marks the third Winter OR trade show hosted in Denver, and the fifth overall, counting the Summer OR convention, since the relocation.

The famous Blue Bear outside the Colorado Convention Center, pictured on the first official day of the Winter Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show, Wednesday, January 29, 2020. [Photo] Derek FranzThe Blue Bear keeps watch outside the Colorado Convention Center, pictured on the first official day of the Winter Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show, Wednesday, January 29, 2020. [Photo] Derek Franz

Today, Bears Ears—a national monument designated in the heart of Utah by outgoing President Barack Obama at the close of 2016—still exists in name, but in December 2017, President Donald Trump reduced the original monument by more than half its original acerage. He also made major reductions to Grand Staircase Escalante and other national monuments around the country. Those rescissions are currently being contested in court. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition—consisting of the Hopi, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain and Zuni tribes—spearheaded the effort to have Bears Ears protected, and the coalition was among the first to file their lawsuit, just hours after the president's announcement.

In the meantime, the Trump administration has continued to cut funding for regulatory agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Land Management. (Overall, from 2017 to 2020, the BLM's funding dropped from $1.5 billion to $1.37 billion, according to esa.org.) In addition, the BLM will be moved from its DC headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado, where it will soon share a building with "a Chevron corporate office, a state oil and gas association and an independent natural gas exploration company," according to the Washington Post.

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The Trump administration has been removing other environmental protections faster than this reporter can keep up with the news. Just last week, officials announced significant cuts to the Clean Water Act. The Associated Press reported on January 24 that the move "ended federal protection for many of the nation's millions of miles of streams, arroyos and wetlands, a sweeping environmental rollback that could leave the waterways more vulnerable to pollution from development, industry and farms. The policy change, signed by heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, narrows the types of waterways that qualify for federal protection under the half-century-old Clean Water Act."

Supporters of Bears Ears National Monument gather on the Utah capitol in 2017. The rally was held during the last Outdoor Retailer hosted by Salt Lake City. [Photo] Andrew BurrSupporters of Bears Ears National Monument gather on the Utah capitol in 2017. The rally was held during the last Outdoor Retailer hosted by Salt Lake City. [Photo] Andrew Burr

The climate crisis continues to escalate. Melting ice and rising temperatures not only threaten high mountains where we climb and ski, but also put communities around the world at risk from a wide range of severe hazards, including rising sea levels and intensified natural disasters. There is a rally planned on the steps of the state capitol at the end of the week (more on that in a moment).

Maybe part of what got us into this mess is that many of us deluded ourselves into feeling that such matters were compartmentalized into distinct political, social, environmental categories—rather than interconnected with the whole of our communities and our lives. Perhaps one of the ways that numerous journalists and media have failed our country in the past is that we have propagated the impression that so many issues are unrelated.

Trump was elected two months after I started working as digital editor for Alpinist, and by May 2017, I was in Washington, DC, covering the inaugural Climb the Hill event. (An event that has continued for the last three years thanks to the Access Fund and American Alpine Club.) Since then, more and more members of the outdoor industry have come to realize that our pursuits are not—and never have been—separate from our government and society. If we want to continue to enjoy the places and lifestyles we love, we need to work together to protect our common interests. We need to strive to ensure that everyone has equal access to opportunities to spend time in nature and to be inspired to care about the conservation of wild places. We need to engage in both individual and collective action to address our own environmental impacts (including those that result from gear consumption and air travel, among others), to support Indigenous communities and other frequently marginalized groups, to mitigate climate change and to help protect humanity's future on this planet.

Speakers of a discussion panel titled Indigenous Connections: Re-envisioning Recreation and Public Land, which was took place at the 2018 Winter Outdoor Retailer. [Photo] Derek FranzSpeakers of a discussion panel titled "Indigenous Connections: Re-envisioning Recreation and Public Land," which took place at the 2018 Winter Outdoor Retailer. [Photo] Derek Franz

So here we are—and here I am—at another Outdoor Retailer, now in an election year, when the results of next November's vote will determine the outcome of urgent matters in both our environment and society, and will reverberate across the rest of the world. The trade show's legendary parties, athlete superstars and all the shiny, fancy gear put a happy facade on the surface of the convention, but there is no question that there are serious subtexts, regardless of how much some of us may wish to look away.

Over these next few days, I will be attending meetings that pertain to the future of Bears Ears and other protected/unprotected lands.

As I was writing this, I received a press release from the Access Fund regarding the Bear Ears lawsuit in response to the current administration's decision to reduce the monument. There are three separate lawsuits that are being heard simultaneously. Each lawsuit is referred to as a "pod." Access Fund's pod includes seven other co-plaintiffs. The five tribes of the Inter-Tribal Coalition have their own pod (lawsuit). (More of this will be explained in a future story.) The January 29 press release reads:

After many months of procedural battles—all of which they've won—Access Fund and its co-plaintiffs have now taken an offensive position with a motion that could lead to a victory....

On January 9, the plaintiffs filed a motion for partial summary judgment:

The motion asserts that President Trump lacked legal authority under the U.S. Constitution and the Antiquities Act to revoke the designation of Bears Ears National Monument. That power is reserved by Congress. If the court agrees on this point, Bears Ears could be restored.

Caroline Gleich in her happy place. [Photo] Rob LeaCaroline Gleich in her happy place. [Photo] Rob Lea

Meanwhile, Caroline Gleich, a famous backcountry skier and environmental activist, has partnered with Katie Boue of the Outdoor Advocacy Project to organize Climate Rally 2020 on the last day of the Outdoor Retailer and SIA Snow Show. The goal, according to the press release, is "to demonstrate the outdoor and snowsports industries' commitment to climate action." A commitment that will be tested in the months ahead.

On Friday, January 31, the public is invited to gather outside the Colorado Convention Center near the Blue Bear at 1:30 p.m. The permitted rally will then march to the west steps of Colorado's capitol at 2 p.m. Speakers will include Protect Our Winters (POW) founder Jeremy Jones; Clare Gallagher, an endurance athlete and environmental advocate based in Boulder, Colorado; and Deenaalee Hodgdon, a Deg Hit'an Athabaskan and Unangax activist from Alaska who climbs, skis and fishes in the backcountry of her traditional land.

The press release reads:

Clean air, clean water and access to the outdoors are human rights and should not be limited to a privileged few. We know that climate change disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income families, who are statistically significantly likelier to live near polluting power plants, congested highways, toxic waste site and landfills. And the disproportionately high asthma rates in their children reflect this reality. The facts couldn't be clearer: climate change is the biggest social justice issue of our time.

I look forward to seeing the various outdoor communities represented at the rally. May we aspire to higher standards, not only in our recreational pursuits, but also in the rest of our lives. The voice and presence of each person can foster a ripple effect.

Here's wishing you all a happy, productive and meaningful trade show. See you there.

For more information about Climate Rally 2020, click here to go to the event page on Facebook.

[This story has been updated to correct inaccuracies regarding the organization of the Bears Ears lawsuits.]

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