Friday, March 8, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy with Tom Flynn

opTom 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.

Sally Jewell Sends Confirmation Hearing (5.10 R)
Yesterday morning, President Obama’s nomination for Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, sat before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Subjected to a barrage of questions from the most specific to the most general, Ms. Jewell answered all with poise and diplomacy. Some questions she could not possibly have expected, like one Senator’s baiting query about her definition of a stream. Through it all, she even managed to crack a few jokes about her resume (“I thought you were going to say I can’t hold down a job”) and Western water rights (“Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting”). The range of questions illustrated the difficult job she faces at Interior. Her responses illustrated that she is up for the task, and ready to bring a balanced approach to the Department. The hearing ended with Senator Wyden acknowledging all the support Sally enjoyed from the environmental and human powered outdoor recreation communities. Without major opposition so far, she will likely be confirmed by the full Senate, as early as next week. 

Breaking News: Utah State Legislature the Subject of Ridicule
In an editorial this week, the Salt Lake Tribune begged their representatives to get with the program. While Utah state representatives wage unnecessary, unconstitutional or unfounded fights with the Federal government on a number of fronts, state-level issues go unaddressed. Let’s review some of the zingers – all, mind you, from just the last week and just on the public lands front. First, the winner for longest logical leap goes to the lawmakers that claimed that forests have been so mismanaged that al Qaida is looking to use them as a weapon of terror. By this logic, a bill and a resolution propose that local governments need authority over the US Forest Service. But that’s not all. How about a bill to allow grazing in Escalante, where grazing is already allowed? Or a whole host of other initiatives to limit Federal land management authority? Just one of the bills from this crash-reel would be cause for concern, but taken together they show a troubling and growing trend in the Utah statehouse.

The Forest Service Gets Smarter on Fighting Fire
Right as last year’s destructive fire season ramped up, the US Forest Service announced that all fires would be fought immediately. Even though the Agency acknowledged that this went against its better judgment – and that some fires should be allowed to burn – the policy seemed to be an effort to cut costs. At the time, this looked like a return to the old “every fire out by 10am” policy that led to the situation we face today. The intertwined ecological, social, political and economic implications of fires are dizzying, and no one claims it is easy to manage forest fires. But it is good news that the USFS shifted policy, allowing more flexibility to allow some fires to burn. It’s not looking good, but here’s hoping we have an easier time of it this year.

Hitchhiking Legalized in Wyoming
Ok, this did happen last week on Friday, but it is still important news for backcountry skiers. Ask most any backcountry skier or snowboarder about “skiing the Pass” and they will know you mean Teton Pass near Jackson, Wyoming. The Pass is legendary because a short hike yields amazing backcountry terrain– so long as you can hitch a ride back up. While hardly anyone was deterred by the law, it is now legal to hitch a ride in Wyoming. Go and ski the Pass!

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