Black Diamond leader issues recreation call to arms
Metcalf urges unified action for conservation in federal land policy.
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
May 22, 2013
Outdoor industries that cater to hikers, backpackers and others “can and should” play a major role in public lands policy, Black Diamond Equipment President and CEO Peter Metcalf said Tuesday.
More than 80 percent of the revenue generated from federal lands in the United States comes from nonextractive industries, Metcalf said while addressing the Yellowstone Business Partnership conference at Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park. Outdoor recreationists — from fly fishermen to mountain bikers — are estimated to spend about $650 billion a year on their hobbies.
“The industry’s challenge at this point is its relative youthfulness, lack of resources and disparate makeup,” Metcalf said. “We’re comprised of hundreds of members, most of whom don’t have the size, clout and financial resources to go toe to toe with the big extractive industry interests of big oil and gas and mining.”
Raised on Long Island, N.Y., Metcalf made his first sojourn West in the 1970s to climb the mountains of Wyoming. He scrambled up the Tetons, bivouacked on high ledges in the Wind River Range and soaked up the rejuvenating power of wilderness.
Metcalf started in the outdoors industry at now-defunct Chouinard Equipment. He spun that climbing equipment firm into Black Diamond.
Today, Black Diamond is a publicly traded business that’s tracking to generate more than $200 million in sales this year.
Headquartered in Salt Lake City, it has offices in Germany, China and Japan and is a leader in the world of climbing and ski gear.
Metcalf sits at the helm.
In Utah, a more-unified outdoor industry has exercised its influence. A decade ago, when Gov. Michael Leavitt was seeking to open protected federal lands in southern Utah to new roads and industrial development, Metcalf and his industry responded.
Utah — Salt Lake City specifically — is host to the twice-a-year Outdoor Industries Association convention. The Boulder, Colo., association’s trade shows can draw more than 2,000 companies and 40,000 people. Its gatherings are a huge boost to the Salt Lake business community.
Metcalf and the association threatened to pull the convention from the Wasatch Front. The threat spurred conversations with Leavitt and ultimately led to a moderated version of his plan.
Today, the influence of the outdoor industry continues to swell, Metcalf said. Many sports that fall into the category are relatively young and growing.
For instance, the industry of modern American climbing dates back “no further than 1957,” he said.
A “momentous new high” for the outdoor industry was President Obama’s recent appointment of former REI CEO Sally Jewell as secretary of the interior, Metcalf said.
“Five years ago, I don’t believe anyone in this room could have imagined that a mountaineer, recreationalist and a retailer could ascend to a position of such power and prominence in American government,” he said. “Think how far we’ve come in under 25 years. One of our own has become the secretary of the interior.”
Once a board member for the Outdoor Industry Association, Metcalf has tried to change the debate on land use by bringing recreation into the equation.
“My strategy was simply to monetize the debate and recast it,” he said, “not as a philosophical and theological debate, not as a jobs-versus-preservation debate but, rather, as a jobs-versus-jobs debate.”
The effects of outdoor recreation on Wyoming’s economy are well understood, thanks in part to the Outdoor Industry Association.
In Wyoming last year, outdoor recreation generated $4.5 million in consumer spending, 50,000 direct jobs and $300 million in state and local tax revenue, according to an association report released in February. Seventy-one percent of state residents participated in some form of outdoor recreation.
The report does not address benefits at the county level.
During the 40-minute address Metcalf also commended John D. Rockefeller Jr. and others who had the foresight to preserve large swaths of Jackson Hole.
In the 1970s, climbing trips to the Teton and Wind River ranges, Metcalf said, “galvanized my love for the high mountains.”
“It’s hard to imagine, but magnificent landscapes like Grand Teton National Park wouldn’t exist in this largely preserved state without the tireless work and energy of a few individuals,” Metcalf said. “All of us must continue to persevere, to protect our public lands, and provide stewardship to places like Greater Yellowstone and the Tetons.”
In the short term, that effort has stalled out in Metcalf’s home state of Utah.
Last summer he resigned from the Utah Ski and Snowboard Working Group because of Gov. Gary Herbert’s continuing attempt to seize federal lands in the state.
“For over 20 years I have worked to help protect and steward Utah’s iconic wildlands and rivers alongside former Utah Govs. Leavitt, Walker and Huntsman,” Metcalf said in a statement at the time of his resignation. “The current administration’s pursuit of federal land transfers and their proposed battle to wrest title of remote trails could open up pristine wilderness, national parks and monuments to drilling and extractive uses, let alone destroy human powered recreational values.”
Outdoor industry representatives ought to “remain organized and activist advocates” in the future, Metcalf said Tuesday.
Companies within the outdoor industry, he said, aren’t individually influential enough to challenge the larger oil, gas and mining lobbies.
“That said, our profile is growing, and our ability to affect the public policy debate has grown and increased substantially,” Metcalf said. “With each new battle, we learn to navigate the halls of Washington a little bit more effectively.”