Friday, March 15, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy with Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn tracks policy related to conservation and recreation for the 
Outdoor Alliance. On Fridays, he summarizes the week’s top outdoor policy related headlines. For questions, comments and angry hate mail, email him at tom [at] outdooralliance [dot] net.

The Sequester Cuts Deep, Forcing National Parks to Scrape By
We knew the Sequester was going to be bad for the outdoors, but this week we started to see just how deep it was going to cut. The first to bleed: Yellowstone National Park. The Washington Post reported that 5% cuts meant that spring snow plowing would start two weeks late. This might not sound like much, until you imagine the business lost per day in local towns and the lost wages to seasonal workers that only have a 20-week season to begin with. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and there may be some hope. Officials in Cody and Jackson, WY considered raising their own money and using the Wyoming Department of Transportation to begin plowing earlier. But Yellowstone wasn’t the only National Park on the chopping block. Up in Glacier, the Park Service proposed delaying the opening of the Going-to-the-Sun Road by two weeks. Here, Secretary of Interior Salazar actually guessed the cost to local communities - at $1 million a day. Our nation’s best idea, and the communities that depend on it, are threatened by a political decision no one is proud of.

Debate Over Criminalizing Backcountry Skiing Alive After All
Previously, an effort to criminalize backcountry skiing in Vermont looked dead. It turns out that while the Vermont Senate bill to fine skiers $500 and hand down criminal charges was dropped, a similar bill in the House survived. Alongside it, another bill to hold the ski areas themselves responsible for rescue costs. The state ski area association still opposes both of these misguided House measures, and neither looks likely to pass. In Colorado, where the land outside ski area boundaries is usually Federal rather than State public land, there are no similar bills. With ski pass sales flat and backcountry skiing and snowboarding exploding, look for more debate in both the East and the West about ducking ropes, lift-accessed backcountry and the increase in rescues that seems all too likely.

Sagebrush Rebellion Festers On
A bunch of quixotic western states continue to demand control of all the Federal lands within their borders. In Idaho, there is still no binding bill proposed. But committees in the House are debating two non-binding resolutions. HCR 21 and 22, with many “whereas” and a sprinkling of “be it further resolved,” proclaim that the state must study and then demand the transfer of Federal lands. As bad as this may look, there is evidence that some states may come to their senses. Over in New Mexico, where a similar effort is underway, a bill to take back Federal lands is stalled – while a measure encouraging collaboration between the US Forest Service and the state sailed through unopposed. Collaboration, as one op-ed put it, may be slow and painful but it is often working. When it comes to managing public lands, cooperation at least has the advantage of being constitutional. Western states need to learn the playground lesson that it is far better to use your words to work things out, rather than demand your marbles back and go home.

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