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REI urges customers they are the "public in public lands"

Retailer tells supporters to email Zinke about their personal tales on public land

Washington CNN  — 

National outdoor retailer REI is urging its customers to challenge Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke over proposed plans to review what public lands will continue to receive monument classification and federal funding.

In an email campaign sent to customers Thursday, REI – which stands for Recreational Equipment, Inc. – explained to buyers that they are the “public in public lands” and asked them to “tell Secretary Ryan Zinke why our public lands need to remain protected now and for future generations.”

“Our country’s public lands define who we are. These are the places where we work, where we play and where we connect to our shared history – and today, some of these places are in jeopardy,” the note read.

The email laid out the 27 national monuments currently being re-considered for federal recognition and included a link to an REI website with a comment form to be sent directly to the federal department.

The email comes days before the public comment period is set to close for Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, which is on Interior’s chopping block. Bears Ears is a 1.3-million-acre parcel of land that includes world-class rock climbing, age-old cliff dwellings and land sacred to Pueblo Indians that then-President Barack Obama designated a monument in 2016.

On their comment page, REI offers suggestions for how supporters should write their letters to Zinke.

“As you write in support below, reference your own personal tie to our national public lands. If you’ve ever explored a national monument, if your job depends on a monument, if your family or community benefits because it’s near these majestic outdoor spaces – or if you have a deep love for our national parks and forests and want them protected – share your story here,” the page states.

REI has ties of its own to the Department of the Interior. Sally Jewell, Zinke’s predecessor under Obama, was the CEO of the company from 2013 to 2017. However, a spokesperson for REI said the company’s response is non-partisan.

“We care because this country’s public lands are the bedrock of an industry that sustains 7.6 million good jobs in urban and rural America, making kids, families and individuals, healthier and happier,” spokesperson Alex Thompson said. “That’s why we invest more than 70 percent of our profit in the outdoors annually, including funding our National Parks and National Forests with tens of millions of dollars in recent decades.”

Thompson continued that the company wants to help spread the voices of those who use the national parks the most: “We are therefore hopeful that (Zinke) listens to the voices of people who have already spoken out and recommends a path that protects and invests in our national public lands for generations to come, thereby sustaining the outdoor infrastructure that sustains our industry and society.”

REI, along with other outdoor companies including Patagonia, have spoken out in the past against plans to remove the federal monument distinction for Bears Ears.

In February, both companies supported pulling out of a major outdoor trade show in Utah in response to a resolution Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert made that advised President Donald Trump to overturn Bears Ears as a national monument. Trump later signed an executive order that ultimately gave him and his administration the authority to roll back the protection of lands designated by Obama and Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush.

Zinke cast the move as a way to include local voices in the decision to designate monuments, however, critics have warned that the review of the Antiquities Act – which was first signed by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 – could undo years of bipartisan work at conserving lands.

In June, REI specifically referenced Zinke when it called the administration’s review “disappointing.”

“It’s disappointing to see a native Montanan who grew up in the shadow of Glacier National Park – and who talks a lot about how much he loves our public lands – make this recommendation as his first big decision given the hundreds of thousands of people who shared their views on the economic, environmental, historic and recreational value of public lands,” REI posted on its website.

Zinke ultimately decided in June to delay his decision on Bears Ears following a visit he made to Bears Ears the month prior. The report, provided to CNN, suggests revising aspects of Bears Ears’ boundaries but does not detail where those changes would be made. In a memo to the President, Zinke says he has produced at “45-day interim report” on the national monument – as is requested in the executive order Trump signed in April – and will issue a “more detailed final report” later this year.

CNN’s Dan Merica contributed to this report.