Sunday, August 25, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - August 23rd

160114445Tom 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 Service Moves More Cash to Keep Fighting Fires - Again
This week, the Forest Service announced that its budget to fight wildfires is running on empty. With only $50 million on hand – enough for a couple days’ worth of firefighting – they are taking $600 million from other programs, including recreation. So far this fire season has been bad, with an area the size of Connecticut burned, but perhaps not as bad as originally feared. That is what makes this budget shuffle so worrying: no one can claim they didn’t see this coming. It is, as some said, an entirely expected disaster. And it’s not even the first time the expected has seemed surprising. Somehow Congress and others continue to shortchange funds for preventing wildfires and for dealing with especially bad fire years. For 6 of the last 11 years, the Forest Service has had to dip into other pots of money to keep firefighting funded. Here is some basic math. Increasing fire danger + less money for fire prevention = a big mess. Yes, fighting fires is a priority. But that is no excuse to repeatedly ransack other, already underfunded programs. Congress and the Obama administration need to do the math from the outset, and give firefighting, especially fire prevention, the money it needs to get through the year. 

Different Cruise, Same Problems
The Middle Fork of the Salmon river is one of the most pristine, accessible wilderness floats in the lower 48, running 100 road-less miles through Idaho. It is certainly not the sort of place you would expect an outbreak of norovirus, the nasty intestinal bug that occasionally makes the rounds on dirty, crowded cruise ships. But with 50 people sick after floating the Middle Fork in the last month, norovirus is the likely culprit. For a river that sees 800 people a week, it is remarkably well managed and unspoiled. That does not mean, however, that norovirus transmission is impossible, given the amount of people using the same water stations, campsites and toilets. The Forest Service is collecting samples to identify the exact cause, but rafters should definitely take extra time to wash their hands and treat their water. For next year, rest assured, even though sun and water won’t kill the bug, the Idaho winter will.

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