Friday, June 21, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - June 21st

Tom 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.

Mountain Biking Approved on New Section of the Continental Divide Trail
Great, unexpected news for Colorado mountain bikers this week. Last winter, word came out that the Forest Service was going to reroute a section of the Continental Divide Trail in southern Colorado. This should have been good news, except that bikes were going to be outlawed from the new singletrack and forced to use the old (read: lame) route on dirt roads. Mountain bikers, lead by IMBA, spoke up and the Forest Service changed course, deciding to allow bikes on the new section. The agency gave two very encouraging reasons why they made this call. First, they issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (say “FONSI”), a wonky technical document that used solid science to show that bikes have a limited impact on trails. Second, they acknowledged that the National Trails Act – which governs this trail and others like it – calls for maximizing both outdoor recreation potential and chances for volunteer help. Allowing mountain biking does both by adding a low impact way to get outside and pulling in the legions of mountain bikers willing to do trail work. While the clearance for 31 miles of new rideable singletrack is great news, the really exciting thing is that this decision could be the key that unlocks more riding in more places in the future. 

State Representative Aims for Speed Record on the Idaho Centennial Trail
The Idaho Centennial Trial runs 950 miles from Nevada to Canada, right through the middle of the state and some of the wildest backcountry areas in the lower 48: the Sawtooths, the Frank Church, the Selway-Bitterroot, and the Selkirks. This August, Idaho state representative Mat Erpelding plans to set the speed record for hiking the length of the trail. It’s not every state rep that can take on a trip this big – one with so much wild country, not to mention so much trudging through hot, flat fields of sagebrush. Besides the experience, the purpose of the trip is to support a non-profit called the Redside Foundation. This organization plays a unique roll in Idaho, by providing training and physical and mental health services for commercial guides. All in all, good news for the outdoors in Idaho, with an elected official that gets it supporting an organization that helps guides help people get outside.

Good Land Protection Bills Pass Committee and Senate
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee has been busy lately. This week, they passed a slew of bills out of committee, with bipartisan support. These included the North Fork Watershed Protection Act for Montana and the San Juan Mountain Wilderness Act for Colorado. Both of these are good news for those that love the outdoors (including mountain bikers). These bills still face a floor vote in the Senate and then the House, but hey, land protection bills are making it further through the process than they have in a long time. In fact, late Wednesday night, the Senate actually passed a few bills, including one to designate new Wilderness and new Wild and Scenic rivers in Washington state. Maybe there is hope for successful land protection this Congress after all.

New Equal Ground Campaign Launched
One last note. This week, the Center for American Progress and other organizations launched a new campaign and released a new poll to go with it. The main finding of the poll was that 65% of Westerners support protecting the outdoors for future generations, while only 30% support oil and gas drilling on public lands. This finding supports their new “Equal Ground” campaign, aimed at balancing the amount of land protected with the amount of land opened up to energy development. Fact is, President Obama has designated 2.5 times more acres for drilling than for permanent protection. Improving that ratio by doing a better job balancing protection and development doesn’t seem like too much to ask for.

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