There is an advertisement currently running on the local television stations promoting that public lands be kept in their pristine state for the benefit of generations to come. I don’t think it is a coincidence that this ad is running at the same time that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has made recommendations concerning the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase monuments for the way they were formed and the size and scope of the monuments. The purpose is to put pressure on public officials to retain the monuments in their current status and size. The ad is narrated by Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia Inc., based in Ventura, California.
According to Wikipedia, “Yvon Chouinard (born Nov. 9, 1938) is an American rock climber, environmentalist and outdoor industry billionaire businessman. His company, Patagonia, is known for its environmental focus. Chouinard is also a surfer, kayaker, falconer and fly fisherman, particularly fond of tenkara fly-fishing.”
In the ad, Chouinard promotes the benefits of the great outdoors and how he even learned some of his business savvy there. All of this while he is decked out in his fly fishing outfit with some beautiful scenery as a backdrop. The ad concludes with him sitting, pleading for individuals to preserve the public lands that we have. What Chouinard doesn’t say (he may not even think it) is that he has his wealth and doesn’t care about the rest of us. Chouinard recognized economic opportunity when it presented itself to him and he was prepared to exploit that opportunity.
Not everyone has the opportunity of making clothing and paraphernalia for the outdoors and turning it into a large corporation. Some people are not as well-educated or don’t recognize the same type of opportunities and just want to run the family ranch when their parents have passed on. In desert country, ranches often count on BLM land to augment their private land to create a large enough operation to raise a family on.
Other individuals may just want to work in the extraction industry where the work is hard, the risks are somewhat elevated, but the pay is good. Others may just want jobs in the industries that support the agricultural and extraction industries. These include construction, banking, education, services, etc., everything needed to have a town.
The argument is put forth that tourism is the perfect industry. It’s clean and the tourists bring in lots of money. They stay in hotels. They eat at restaurants. They buy souvenirs. They rent cars. They take tours and hire guides and outfitters. Who could want for anything more? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem to me to be too clever of a plan to have a community's economic development depend on the vacation plans of the East and West Coast elites. An economic downturn causes them to cancel their vacation. Those canceled vacations are devastating to the communities that depend on them.
Patagonia was one of the retailers leading the way in trying to strong-arm the state of Utah in supporting the two monuments as formed. It had a very powerful voice in moving the Outdoor Retailers Convention out of Salt Lake after the state wouldn’t play ball. If you’re wondering if Chouinard and his friends would be loyal to the people of southern Utah, who just want a little bit of economic opportunity, should it prove inconvenient for the elites to go there, I think you have the answer and know where their loyalties lie.
Robert Darby is a lifetime inhabitant of Utah. He graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in engineering. He worked for the U.S. Air Force for 28 years at Hill Air Force Base.