Saturday, May 18, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy

Yosemite with Tom FlynnTom Flynn tracks policy related to conservation and recreation for the Outdoor Alliance. Most Fridays, he summarizes the week’s top outdoor policy related headlines. With questions, news tips and angry hate mail, email him at tom [at] outdooralliance [dot] net.


Climbing Bolts Cleared in Wilderness
After some bad news for Idaho climbers last week, climbers everywhere enjoyed good news this week. Settling a 20-year dispute, the National Park Service decided that fixed anchors are allowed in their Wilderness areas. First, some background. Wilderness, with a capital W, is the most protected public land we’ve got. Some of the best places on earth are protected forever thanks to Congressional action under the Wilderness Act of 1964. But these places are also some of the most restrictive; mountain bikes, for example, are not allowed anywhere in Wilderness. And bikes aren’t the only things. Wilderness also forbids permanent installations of any kind. It is under this logic that there has been a long history of debate about whether or not fixed anchors (bolts and slings for protection and rappelling) are allowed. A large part of this debate was settled this week, at least for the Wilderness areas managed by the Park Service, which include the little-known climbing destinations of Zion and Yosemite. The agency determined that fixed anchors do not violate Wilderness, and even allowed “programmatic authorizations” – agency speak for bolts approved by zone instead of bolt-by-bolt. Some will still argue that bolts violate the Wilderness Act’s ban on permanent installations, but if used sparingly, bolts won’t degrade the Wilderness and will make more and safer climbing possible. All in all great news for climbers, and vindication for decades of hard work by the Access Fund and others.

More Fires, Less Money
So far it has been a slow start to the wildfire season, but the signs of a dangerous drought are as obvious as the dust rising off the mountain bike trails. This week, Sally Jewell and Tom Vilsack, Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture, visited the National Interagency Fire Center to bear some bad news and offer a bit of a pep talk. While the Pacific coast and interior northwest is facing another bad fire season, the Forest Service will have 500 fewer peopleand 50 fewer engines to fight it. This is all thanks to sequestration’s budget cuts, of course. One of the cruel ironies of the cuts? The budget to prevent fires is hit especially hard, leaving the agencies reacting to fires rather than proactively preventing them. None of this is good news for enjoying the outdoors. Not only is it hard to ride your bike through a forest fire, but if there isn’t enough money to fight fires, agencies often take money from other programs like recreation, leaving trails unmaintained or un-built. The West may be in for a tough summer.

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