SALT LAKE CITY – Organizers of one of the world's largest outdoor gear trade shows are threatening to pull the bi-annual expo from Salt Lake City if Utah's governor doesn't change course on environmental issues.
The ultimatum was given to Gov. Gary Herbert on Wednesday as the board of the Outdoor Industry Association met to discuss its distaste for the governor's policies, among other issues.
The Outdoor Retailer show, which is in town this week, could be moved to Denver, Las Vegas, Anaheim, Calif., or Orlando, Fla., association officials said. The shows draw more than 25,000 people and inject more than $40 million into the Utah economy annually. They have taken place in Utah since 1996.
"We have not and will not sit silently on threats to the nation's recreation infrastructure," association president and CEO Frank Hugelmeyer said in a statement Wednesday after the board met privately with Herbert.
The group called on Herbert to "pursue public land policies that support the outdoor industry" and added that it expected a favorable signal from the governor "within the next 30 days."
At issue is a bill signed by Herbert in March that demands the federal government relinquish control of public lands in Utah by 2014. The association also opposes Utah's effort to open thousands of dirt paths across public lands to motor vehicles.
The Outdoor Industry Association represents some of the biggest companies in the business, with 4,000 members. It's also seeking more convention space and hotel rooms from Utah.
Herbert vowed to work toward keeping the shows in Utah, saying "everything's on the table."
However, he said, the group has misconstrued his position on public lands, noting the state wouldn't touch Utah's five national parks, several national monuments and 33 wilderness areas. Herbert and the Republican-led Legislature have said they believe the state could manage much of the public lands better than the federal government, but critics fear it could lead to more mining and environmental degradation.
Herbert also acknowledged that despite what he decides to do, Utah could lose the events.
"These are business people. They understand the bottom line," Herbert said. "It's about profitability and maximizing your profits. I understand that.
"They're looking to better themselves," he added. "My suggestion to them was they will be more profitable and more successful here in Salt Lake City, Utah, than any other place they're looking at."
Organizers concede Salt Lake City — with its easy access to mountains, ski areas and wilderness — is a good fit for the events, but they're willing to look elsewhere.
Utah Democrats, meanwhile, seized on the dispute, claiming Herbert's political showmanship could cost the state a lot of money.
Jim Dabakis, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, called Utah's Republican officials "pathetic" for making "ridiculous demands that their own attorneys told them was unconstitutional," referring to the bill signed into law aimed at seizing federal lands.
"We're going to lose this convention because of a political stunt," Dabakis said.