Metcalf op-ed letter ignites a political firestorm

Peter Metcalf, CEO and president of Salt Lake City, Utah-based, Black Diamond never imagined the firestorm his op-ed piece, published in the May 4 Sunday edition of the Salt Lake Tribune, would ignite.
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Peter Metcalf, CEO and president of Salt Lake City, Utah-based, Black Diamond never imagined the firestorm his op-ed piece, published in the May 4 Sunday edition of the Salt Lake Tribune, would ignite. (Metcalf's op-ed and an opinion piece directed at our industry appear as a Guest Editorial in the SNEWSitorial section of SNEWS).

Metcalf's editorial took issue with an April 11 backdoor settlement between Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and Interior Secretary Gale Norton that stripped wilderness protections on nearly 6 million acres in Utah. In settling the case, Norton agreed to remove interim protections now afforded to those potential wilderness areas identified after 1991 on Bureau of Land Management lands. Leavitt then agreed to drop a lawsuit Utah filed in 1996 against the Interior Department that alleged then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt overstepped his authority.

Clamors for TV, print and radio interviews followed Metcalf's editorial in short order with a few in Utah apparently wondering if Metcalf was speaking for everyone in the industry or just himself. A May 7 article in the Deseret wondered, "Is Peter Metcalf, co-founder of Black Diamond Equipment Ltd., just a one-man force behind the protest?" The root of that pondering was linked to a comment made by Peter Devin, Outdoor Retailer trade show director, who, apparently caught unaware of Metcalf's position and the swelling industry response, was quoted by the Deseret reporter as saying, "We're not taking a political stand. The venue is wonderful. We support it 100 percent."

Devin clarified his position and that of future Outdoor Retailer trade show locations by telling SNEWS that, "Salt Lake City has been a strong destination for the industry. However, we will be reflective of our customers' needs as to determining the future timing and location of the Outdoor Retailer shows."

If there were any believers that Metcalf was acting alone, those beliefs were quickly crushed under an avalanche of response from key industry players, including the Outdoor Industry Association.

Roody Rasmussen, president/CEO of Petzl America, first put his shoulder of support behind Metcalf's efforts with an op-ed of his own that appeared in the Friday edition of the Salt Lake Tribune, and then he fired a more detailed version of that in a letter directly to Gov. Leavitt:

Dear Governor Leavitt,

As a native Utahn, lifelong outdoorsman, and in my two latest roles -- first as president of a company supplying equipment to the outdoor sports market, and second, as a Board Member of the Outdoor Industry Association -- I wish to support the carefully considered opinion editorial written by Peter Metcalf that appeared in last Sunday's Salt Lake Tribune.

What appears to be a behind the scenes deal with the Department of the Interior to open up lands that had been set aside for consideration as wilderness, will have a direct and negative impact on the economy and reputation of Utah for years to come. This decision demonstrates an unfortunate lack of understanding of the impact of Utah's wilderness resource as well as an unthinking lack of support for the members of the outdoor industry who are based here.

Only last month, our company partnered with the Utah Travel Council to bring twelve writers and editors from major outdoor recreation magazines (both U.S. and Canadian) to Utah for a four-day media trip, camping and traveling in the San Rafael Swell. One focus of this trip was to introduce these widely-read writers to Utah's wild places to experience the beauty of Utah's desert through canyoneering, an activity that most had not encountered before. The trip was an unqualified success -- its effects will continue for months to come as these writers and editors expound on the many recreational opportunities available in Utah for hikers, backpackers, campers and rock-climbers.

Our company distributes rock-climbing and camping equipment. We employ 40 individuals at our Freeport Center location, and contribute in excess of $2.5 million in wages and taxes annually to be used in and by the state.

Our sister company (also located in the Freeport Center) manufactures our pulleys and carabiners, employing 30 more people and contributing proportionally to Utah's economy. We are but two small companies in the thriving outdoor recreation business in Utah.

We moved our North American distribution center to Utah from Georgia in 1999. Factors leading to this decision included two perceptions: First, that the center of the outdoor industry (as well as the center of the outdoors) is here in Utah, and second, that local governments in Utah actively supported the outdoor industry because they understood the financial benefits that are generated by our wild landscape.

Utah as a national center of outdoor life is reflected most clearly by the semi-annual Outdoor Retailer Show at the Salt Palace each January and August. This human-powered sports show is the largest trade show in the state, with an estimated 40,000 participants and providing $24,000,000 in annual revenue (according to the latest figures from the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors' Bureau). Utah's wild lands are a major attraction for the participants in this show, and many arrive early or stay late to spend additional time in Utah's outdoors.

This economic benefit, however, brings with it a stewardship responsibility. With your recent decision to eliminate the system that holds land in wilderness quality while they can be studied to determine if these lands should be granted Wilderness status exhibits a lack of appreciation for both the outdoor industry and the stewardship responsibility entrusted to the office of the Governor. This blatant disregard of wild lands as a precious resource once again raises the issue for the outdoor industry: "Should we stay in Salt Lake City, or is there a location more in tune with our values?" (Denver has been frequently cited.) As a Utahn myself, I do not want to entertain the idea of moving the Outdoor Retailer Show, however as a businessman, I clearly hear the message of your decision, and I ask myself if it is time to explore other options for our industry's major show.

Backroom deals on the future of Utah's wild lands eliminate the essential collaborative element that the concept of stewardship requires. Having done so, I would like to know what actions you are willing to take to demonstrate support and understanding of the importance of wilderness as well as the necessity and desirability of the collaborative process? Our stewardship has two responsibilities: First, to future generations of Utahns -- those who will cherish, use and care for our irreplaceable resource; second, to those citizens and enthusiasts throughout our country who actively use it now, and to those supportive businesses located here which supply them. All of us -- those in the present as well as future generations -- will be affected by potential degradation or closure of areas now clean and open, and all must be made aware of how their recreational spaces and their future use of those spaces will be impacted by any wild country land use decision.

Open lands and wilderness do not detract from Utah's future economy -- they support it with tourism and recreation dollars -- clean, sustainable industries. Careful stewardship of our wilderness lands equals not only a future for the outdoors that will continue through future generations, but also an intelligent business decision."

Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Association joined Rasmussen in a double-barreled salvo across Leavitt's now smoldering desk with the following letter:

"Dear Governor Leavitt:

As the largest outdoor trade association in America and exclusive endorser of the Outdoor Retailer trade shows, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and its 1,100 business members, which comprise an $18 billion industry, represent the majority of exhibitors, vendors and attendees at Outdoor Retailer (OR) trade shows. OIA believes Peter Metcalf, an influential member of the outdoor retail community, has raised an important issue, which we are fully prepared to discuss and vet with our membership. If OIA requests a relocation of the OR show on behalf of its members, there is no question it will be strongly considered by Outdoor Retailer.

OIA has noted with concern several important legal cases regarding the protection of wild places and the state of Utah. Of particular concern is the state's recent behind the scenes settlement with the Department of Interior regarding wilderness protection. This settlement will affect recreation destinations and Americans all over the West, and will open millions of acres of wilderness quality lands to activities which could degrade these qualities. The settlement also removes important processes for orderly creation of new Wilderness areas. The state's recent actions cast doubt on its long-term commitment to protecting the precious landscape that defines Utah. We detect a trend that jeopardizes both the health of backcountry recreation destinations and outdoor businesses.

In a recent survey of OIA members, we found that a strong 92% of outdoor recreation product manufacturers, suppliers and retailers around the country feel it is very important to preserve wilderness areas and 80% agree that it is essential to establish new Wilderness areas. Clearly, the vast majority of OIA members agree with Mr. Metcalf that the impact of policies on quiet, pristine recreation destinations should be a primary consideration when creating policy for public lands. As a collective business community, we adamantly oppose efforts to gut policies that could lead to negative impacts on the American recreation experience.

The fact remains that Utah's Governor is in a prime position to be a public land steward and protect time-proven policies that have served Americans and the public lands well. Wild places are the economic backbone of outdoor recreation businesses across the nation and ensure the physical and emotional health of 149 million Americans that participate in active outdoor recreation each year. The enormously popular American outdoor lifestyle must be a top priority, and we expect the Governor of Utah to share that sentiment, when it comes to managing our public lands. Make no mistake, OIA and its members will strongly look at where we host all our industry events and spend our dollars. And that includes where we prefer the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show to be held."

SNEWS spoke with Hugelmeyer who told us that the OIA, along with key members of the industry, are scheduled to sit down with Gov. Leavitt to make it clear a number of points must be addressed quickly by the governor IF Utah hopes to salvage its relationship with the industry and keep the trade show in Salt Lake City.

"Outdoor recreation has been a 'second class citizen' for policy-makers at the national and state levels when decisions are made about public lands. And this needs to change," Hugelmeyer said.

"Recreation is one of Utah's biggest economic drivers. As a result, policy makers must make outdoor recreation a priority when making public lands decisions," he added. "Make no mistake the outdoor recreation industry is going to take a serious look at where we spend our money (for example, the Outdoor Retailer show). It makes sense for us to spend our money in a place that respects and understands outdoor recreation needs -- and makes these needs a priority when making public lands decisions."

Hugelmeyer also told us that, "The outdoor industry believes that an on-going dialogue with the governor is necessary to begin to resolve concerns over Utah's wild lands. We believe that an on-going dialogue is also necessary with Secretary Norton about the need to consider outdoor recreation when making public land decisions."

SNEWS View: Right on Peter Metcalf! A sharp salute of respect to Roody Rasmussen. And a huge round of applause to the Outdoor Industry Association. Membership does have its rewards. Our entire industry needs to stand up as one here and make the message very, very clear. Be sure to read Metcalf's SNEWS Guest Editorial and call-to-arms, and email OIA with your comments and thoughts. Gov. Leavitt needs to understand, as does the national political machine, that if they support recreation they will likely garner our support. Overlook recreation and the importance of it to our industry, and the risk of getting slapped economically very hard becomes more likely. Let's be clear here. No one is eager to move the show and they're certainly not going to make a move by this summer, or even by next winter we'd imagine. Salt Lake City has been a good hostess -- once she learned how to actually cope with more than two guests at a time that is. However, Denver is rapidly becoming a favorite choice among those who contact us wondering where the show might go after the 2005 contract with the SLC Convention Center expires. We'd certainly support a Denver move as well -- when the Denver Convention Center expansion is complete. Though we don't know what we'll do when we can actually have two whole drinks in front of our plate at one time.

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