Friday, July 19, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - July 19th

IMG_0030Tom 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.

Good Public Land News out of...Utah?
The words “good news for the outdoors” and “Utah lawmakers” aren’t normally found together. But this week is an exception. Utah’s elected officials changed course on two of their worst public land proposals. First, Federal legislation for the SkiLink gondola proposal was pronounced dead. The problems with Ski Link could fill a book, but here’s the short story. Talisker, a Canadian company, wanted to build a gondola through an undeveloped slice of public land in the Wasatch (see photo) to connect two ski areas: Canyons in Park City and Solitude in Big Cottonwood. City and county officials opposed the idea and the Forest Service didn’t want to give up the land. So Utah’s congressional delegation joined Talisker to push for a Federal law to force the sale of 30 acres of public land. If built, Ski Link would impact a prime bit of entry-level backcountry skiing, an IMBA Epic mountain bike trail, the watershed for Salt Lake City, and much else – all based on faulty claims of it providing an economic boost and a “transportation solution.” Thankfully, backers in the state and in DC backed down. In the second bit of good news, the Utah legislature repealed HB 155, which would have made it illegal for Federal land managers to enforce State laws, like speed limits and gun regulations, on Federal lands. Proponents claimed citizens were being harassed, but they couldn't point to any actual evidence. For this and other reasons, a federal judge shot the law down and the Utah legislature retracted it. The timely deaths of both the SkiLink legislation and the anti-Federal land manager legislation are a rare bit of good news for Utah’s public lands. Hopefully the irony of these two now-dead proposals – one trying to use Federal power over local power and the other trying to use State power over Federal power – is not lost on anyone.

Support Grows for Boulder-White Cloud National Monument
In Idaho, there continues to be rumblings of a National Monument proposal for the Boulder-White Clouds. These two mountain ranges, between Sun Valley and Stanley, are home to amazing backcountry skiing, mountain biking and backpacking but don’t enjoy the protection and funding they deserve. A longstanding Wilderness proposal would protect the land but bar bikes from the burly, beautiful backcountry trails. This week, the Idaho Statesman issued an editorial, citing the opposition of the Sawtooth Society, and urging caution when ditching the Wilderness legislation in favor of the Presidentially-decreed National Monument proclamation. While this is reasonable, there is growing consensus that the Wilderness legislation is stuck and growing support for the National Monument route. The Wood River Bike Coalition, a chapter of IMBA, threw its support behind the idea. This is a big deal. For the first time in the long history of attempts to protect the Boulder-White Clouds, there is now a way to protect both the place AND the sustainable ways to enjoy it, which is supported by a diverse and growing list of groups. Though much work remains to be done, a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument may have a fighting chance.

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