Friday, July 5, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - July 5th

OutdoorPolicy75Tom 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.

 Forest Management Scandal and Wildfire Tragedy in Arizona

Timber management on public lands doesn’t normally involve scandal that sounds more like Chicago politics. But recently an excellent investigative piece revealed serious evidence of corruption in the Four Forest Restoration Initiative. This project, 4FRI for short, is the largest of its kind in the nation, aimed at thinning 2.4 million acres of national forest land north of Flagstaff, Arizona. The plan is for a private company to do the work and profit from selling the wood. The valid hope is to reduce the amount of burnable fuel in the forests – a legacy of a century of misguided fire suppression – and reduce extreme fires like the one that killed 19 firefighters on state and private land in AZ this week. While the goals are commendable, the problem is with the company the Forest Service picked. Turns out that Pioneer Forest Products, which won the contract, made some ridiculous, scientifically unproven claims in their proposal: running logging trucks on wood biofuel, turning pine into mahogany and magically lightening wood panels. Maybe worst of all, one of the top people at Pioneer is an ex-Forest Supervisor. The damning allegations go on, but the point is, not a single tree has been cut in the year since the contract was awarded. Vegetation management matters, as absurd a euphemism for logging as it may be (couldn’t the vegetation “manage” itself just fine before?). The way we deal with our forests as they actually are -  getting warmer, full of fuel and littered with trophy homes - mattered to the 19 that died. It will also matter to the thousands more that will risk their lives to fight fires all summer long. For their sake, the Forest Service ought to take responsibility for the 4FRI and work to set a much better example for forest management.

 Less Agency Funding Means Less Volunteer Help

Can you be so poor that you can’t accept free help? If you are the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service, the answer is yes. The recreation budgets for these agencies – that’s the cash that keeps trails open and toilet paper in the bathrooms – have been shrinking for years. Sequestration’s budget cuts, coming late in the fiscal year, certainly made things worse. More and more, these agencies are looking to volunteers to do trail work and other necessary things they can’t afford to do on their own. The issue comes when the agency doesn’t have the resources to accept even unpaid volunteers. Free labor still needs direction and supervision, and without this, volunteers go unused. Losing agency staff means losing not just their time, but also all the volunteer hours they made possible. Shrinking agency budgets are bad news for volunteering and bad news for the outdoors.

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