Friday, April 19, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy with Tom Flynn

IMG_0026Tom Flynn tracks policy related to conservation and recreation for the Outdoor Alliance. Most 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.

Antiquities Act in the Crosshairs
What do Jackson Hole, Wrangell-St. Elias, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Fort Ord (home of this weeks Sea Otter Classic) all have in common? These amazing places to ski, climb and race mountain bikes were designated National Monuments. Despite how important National Monuments are for conservation and recreation, there are efforts to limit the Antiquities Act that makes it all possible. On Tuesday, the House Natural Resources committee took a look at a string of bills from Utah, Idaho and Nevada lawmakers that proposed various ways to hamstring the President’s ability to designate National Monuments, either by requiring Congressional approval or other restrictions. Some pointed to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, another world-class place to play outside, the mere mention of which could start a bar fight with some Utahns that see it as a prime example of Antiquities Act abuse. Fact is, with so little in the way of land protection passing these days, the Act is a key way for iconic places to get the protection they deserve – and its been successfully used by Presidents of both parties for a hundred years. The House committee hasn’t voted on any of these proposals yet, but they could soon.

Rumblings of a Big Public Lands Bill for Utah
Also this week, Utah Congressman Rob Bishop, who chairs the committee looking at Antiquities Act limitations, spoke about his effort to break through the logjam and cobble together a public lands bill for the state. Given some of Bishop’s prior thinking on public lands, there is cause for concern. He was, after all, the one that last congress proposed a bill that would have thrown out all environmental regulations within 100 miles of the Southern and Northern US borders, in the name of border security. What had him so concerned about the Canadians we can’t be sure, but he is certainly no friend of environmental safeguards. That said, some of those that look out for wilderness in Utah are cautiously optimistic about this new effort. Discussion is always good, and going the route of a stand-alone bill – rather than a tacked-on amendment with minimal consensus – seems positive.

Some Unexpected Ski Areas Resist “Uphilling”
Last week, the state of the ski industry was in the news. This week there were more headlines about another important part of skiing today – uphill access inbounds at ski areas. More and more people looking for a workout or some quiet skiing in the pre-dawn or evening are skinning by the lifts at ski resorts. If anywhere would embrace this trend, you’d think it would be Boulder, CO and the nearby ski area of Eldora. But Eldora is bucking the national tend and firmly resisting uphill traffic. Granted, there are some tricky things about uphill access, like how to make sure skinning skiers are covered by insurance (usually done by way of a pass) and not run over by groomers or snomos (ouch). Also, most Western ski areas are on public land, so it seems like there should be reasonable access to them, within the terms of the resort’s lease. Some resorts, like Crested Butte, have it all figured out. They offer season and day passes for uphill access along designated routes. And they are making money at it – not only on coffee sales in the lodge but also on passes, with 700 uphill season passes sold at $100 a pop. Uphill skiers use snow making and grooming, so most are just fine paying to play. By outlawing uphill access, Eldora is not only shutting off human powered recreation, they are also leaving money on the table. If they actually think the Nordic trails are a substitute, they just don’t get it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy with Tom Flynn

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

Above is a cool pic of Tom staring off into the sun. If you can guess where this is correctly, we'll send you a nice little gift.

Sally Jewell Gets the Job
On Wednesday evening, Sally Jewell was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the next Secretary of the Interior. After all the speculation and the grueling confirmation hearing, it ended with more of a whimper than a bang. Wedged in between continuous speeches about gun control, Senators Wyden and Murkowski endorsed Ms. Jewell for the job, followed by Washington Senators Murray and Cantwell. All the statements were supportive, but not new – one Senator even trotted out the old joke about Ms. Jewell having to fill the large cowboy boots of out-going Secretary Ken Salazar. The final vote was 87 to 11. Now that she is confirmed, Secretary Jewell can get to work managing all the divergent aspects of our public lands. With her personal and professional commitment to outdoor recreation, this is good news for all of us.

Forest Service Changing Appeals Process
The Forest Service appeals process might be a yawn-inducing subject, but wake up, cause it’s changing. A clearly written piece in the Ravalli Republic details how the Forest Service is switching from a 215 to a 218. Basically this means that the public has to object before a decision is made, rather than after. Without oversimplifying too much, take this hypothetical: Say the Forest Service decides to close a river to kayaking. It used to be that you could appeal the decision after kayaking was barred, and hopefully have it changed. Now, you would have to object before the decision was even made. On the positive side, this change will force people to work with the Forest Service earlier on in the process. On negative side, this could unreasonably require us to use a crystal ball and imagine what the agency will do. As per usual, the devil is in the details, and this change’s affect on outdoor policy remains to be seen.

Wyoming Ski Hill Trying to Re-open – As a Non-profit
In Wyoming, a ski area previously called Fun Valley has been boarded up since 2003. Now, there is a local effort underway to get the lifts spinning again. Through the non-profit Antelope Butte Foundation, residents in the surrounding area are trying to raise the $3 million needed to get operational. In a way, Fun Valley’s fate and potential resurrection reflects on the entire ski industry. Like many mom and pop ski hills, it was closed for lack of snow and lack of profits. At the other end of the spectrum, mega-resorts keep raising lift ticket prices and trying to expand onto more and more public lands. All the while, lift ticket sales are actually declining  – while backcountry equipment sales explode. It might be easy to conclude that in-bounds skiing is in a downward spiral, but that’s not the whole story. The non-profit model that Fun Valley has mapped out works great in some places, like Bogus Basin in Boise, ID.  Local hills like these are too important a pipeline – to the backcountry, to bigger resorts, and to a lifelong love of skiing – to go away. Here’s hoping that more mom and pop hills can stay open or re-open as non-profits.

Monday, April 8, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy with Tom Flynn

importnatTom Flynn tracks policy related to conservation and recreation for the Outdoor Alliance. Most 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. 

This week’s post delayed because the entire Outdoor Alliance crew was in Washington DC last week, getting the latest from Congress and meeting with officials at the land management agencies. (If you can guess which one is me, we'll send you a sweet little prize pack from Wenger).

Peace and Powder: Huge Victory for Backcountry Skiers
Backcountry skiers rejoice! Last week on April 1st, word came out that a Federal court had ruled in favor of Winter Wildlands Alliance, requiring the Forest Service to manage snowmachine use. Far from an April Fools, this is a huge deal. A victory this decisive is all to rare when it comes to recreation and public lands. The story starts with something called the 2005 Travel Management Rule. With this rule, the Forest Service was required to manage off-road use in national forests – for everything except snowmachines. During the summer, the Forest Service has reams of management documents for off-road use, but all this disappears as soon as the snow falls. Backcountry skiers have long argued that snowmachines are pretty much like other off-road vehicles and should be similarly managed. Now the loophole is closed and the Forest Serivce has to. The agency has until next ski season to figure out what to do with snowmachines, which means modern management for better, quieter skiing. There still may be appeals, but skiers everywhere should dream of more untracked fields of pow to come.

Two Good Land Protection Bills in the Works
Two amazing parts of the world stand to be protected. The Browns Canyon of the Arkansas River in Colorado and the North Fork of the Flathead in Montana are both slated for permanent protection. Senator Mark Udall of Colorado released his proposal for the Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Area, which would protect about 22,000 acres between Salida and Buena Vista, home to some of the most popular rafting anywhere. This proposal has wide support, including from the Denver Post. Over in Montana, new Congressman Steve Daines announced a bill to protect the North Fork of the Flathead from mining and energy development. This is great news in a state that is a little behind when it comes to river protections. Locals love it and there was even some buzz about this bill in Washington DC. Word in the Beltway is that unlike last year, there is broad interest in actually moving some public land bills like these, so stay tuned.

Idaho Continues to Demand Federal Land
The schoolyard spat continues, with the Idaho legislature taking more steps to take back federal lands within its boarders. The House had previously passed two non-binging resolutions, one demanding the lands and the other demanding a study of the idea (seem backward to anyone?). Now the Idaho Senate has also passed the resolutions. This means Idaho tax dollars will be spent studying the take back, despite the fact that the issue is pretty clear: the Idaho Constitution ceded all right and title to federal lands in 1890.