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.
Prime Land Secretly Leased for Oil and Gas in Utah
This week, news broke that 100,000 acres of the Book Cliffs, a hunting and fishing mecca south of Vernal, UT, had been leased for oil and gas development. This might sound like any old extractive energy lease, but there were many people that had been pushing hard to conserve the area, and they were quite surprised when the decision was made behind their backs. The issue is that the land is managed by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). Unlike Federal public land, which is managed for multiple uses and the overall public good, this land is managed to maximize its economic returns for Utah’s schools. So if the SITLA board strikes a huge, secret deal with an oil company, they’re just doing their job – tough cookies. This serves as a stark reminder of the difference between public land and state managed land, which is especially important given the efforts underway across the West – lead in large part by Utah – to transfer public land to state control. Federal management isn’t perfect, but this sort of back room deal would not have been possible on public land. Since the decision came out, hunting and fishing groups have cried foul and Utah’s governor asked the SITLA board to reconsider. Even Representative Rob Bishop, who is usually no great friend of land conservation but is in the middle of his own land management process for the region, mumbled that conserving the Book Cliffs is a “worthwhile endeavor.” What happens when you mix oil, gas, hunting, fishing, Rob Bishop, state management and school kids? Stay tuned.
Fingers Crossed for Yellowstone’s Winter Plan
After more than 15 years of back and forth, there might finally be a winter use plan for Yellowstone National Park. As the most recent of many attempts, the current plan signed last week is a good compromise, protecting the Park and balancing motorized and non-motorized use. Far from the dark days when there was so much exhaust in the air that Park Rangers wore respirators, wintertime in Yellowstone has improved significantly. Though no changes go into affect this season, the plan should do even more to protect wildlife, air quality and quiet places. Here’s hoping it sticks.