Outdoor Retailers Lack Openness on Public Lands

by Aaron Johnson, Vice President of Public Affairs on June 26, 2018 - 8:33am

On a recent podcast hosted by acclaimed freestyle skier Lynsey Dyer, the head of the Outdoor Industry Association boasted about talking with groups she disagrees with politically. Amy Roberts, the executive director of the largest trade association representing outdoor retailers and gear manufactures, discussed how “building relationships with the other side” is critical in public policy discussions and lamented “now that’s gone away.”

Yet her comments to a friendly audience don’t reflect the reality of the past two months.

In April, we sent Ms. Roberts a letter requesting an opportunity to talk about public lands during the upcoming Outdoor Retailer, OIA’s largest tradeshow. Despite her claims of openness, we have not received a response.

Seeking common points of interest, our letter pointed out how public lands are mutually vital to OIA and the Alliance and we likewise strive for environmentally responsible uses. Members of both trade associations derive economic benefits from public lands. OIA members produce gear for people to go outdoors and to recreate. Alliance members, operating on public lands, produce the fuel that gets them there and feedstock that manufactures require to make jackets, tents, backpacks and numerous other products.

Public lands policies will create a lot of buzz at the Outdoor Retailer show in July. In 2017, in a very public display, OIA announced it was relocating its tradeshow presence from Salt Lake City to Denver following policy disagreements with Governor Herbert over federal public lands in Utah. During the first show since the relocation to Colorado, the Snow Show this January, OIA included a campaign featuring a Bears Ears countdown clock beamed on government buildings around Denver, panel discussions on public lands, trade media stories, and several social media posts.

Expecting the discussion to continue at the tradeshow in July, we asked if OIA would consider having Western Energy Alliance on a panel to discuss productive public lands uses and conservation. We invited them to a meeting between representatives of our two associations. We’re open to discussion, and are willing to find a forum suitable to them.

Like OIA members, we are outdoor enthusiasts who love public lands. Topics in their policy platform for 2018 are similar to those the Alliance regularly engages in, including fossil fuel use, climate policies, monument designations, public land leasing, national parks funding, and tariffs. Bringing together policy experts from the two groups to discuss such wide ranging policies could be enlightening.

So after stumbling upon Ms. Robert’s podcast interview and hearing what sounded like heartfelt willingness to engage on complex policies, we followed up on the letter. Last week we asked Ms. Roberts directly on Twitter if she and OIA members are willing to talk. We shared the letter once again and even pointed out Kathleen Sgamma’s recent public lands panel discussion on National Public Radio to show our prominence on the issue. Still, no response.

We remain hopeful and open to deeper discussion. But we increasingly recognize the campaigns by the outdoor retailers and product manufactures are simply intended to stir buzz and sell jackets, not create real dialogue and engagement.

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