Thursday, September 5, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - September 6th

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.

Montana Also Opposes Fracking Regulations
Montana has now joined Alabama, Alaska and Oklahoma in opposing Bureau of Land Management rules for fracking. These states claim that they already have state regulations that cover it well enough. To some, though, this looks like exactly the sort of situation that calls for Federal regulations. It is, after all, Federal public land and currently, as Interior Secretary Sally Jewell put it, covered by an inconsistent patchwork of different rules. The states worry that Federal regulations will impede oil and gas development. That’s kind of the point – to a point. Better regulations will not stop fracking, just hit pause for a moment, long enough to give some consideration to the amount of water it takes, the types of chemicals it pumps into the ground, and the other, valuable ways the same land could be used. What’s really needed in the current oil and gas boom is more landscape level thinking, like the master leasing plans beginning explored in places like Moab, UT. By looking at the place as a whole, these plans can put energy development where it does the least harm, while protecting wild places and outdoor recreation. One way to tell the BLM might be on the the right track to compromise with the regulations? Everyone, on either side, hates it.

Mountain Goats Introduced, Despite Objections
Why, you might ask, would there be Rocky Mountain goats in the La Sals, the mountain range that forms the snowy backdrop to Moab, Utah? To hunt them, of course. This week, state wildlife officials introduced 20 of the non-native goats, despite opposition from many, including the Forest Service. Part of the concern is for rare plant species and fragile alpine ecosystems in and around a designated natural research area. The wildlife officials contend that the goats will be watched “very, very carefully.” It is unclear whether this will include 24-7 video surveillance to ensure they do not disturb a single leaf. It is also unclear why the state wildlife department, whose mission is primarily to increase hunting opportunities, has authority over the Forest Service, which actually manages the La Sals and is charged with balancing a much broader set of concerns. One thing that is clear, however, is the great track record of successful introductions of non-native species throughout history. Oh wait. What’s next, the reintroduction of wolves to control the goats once they get out of hand?

Fires Burn Right Through Actively Managed Forest
Throughout this summer’s debate about forest fires, there has been a common refrain: If forests were more actively managed, the fires would not be so bad. But recent fires in Idaho burned right through actively managed forests on both public and state land, calling this mantra into question. Active management means different things to different people, be it logging, thinning or prescribed burning. With climate change driving hotter, drier conditions, it appears there is a ‘new normal’ for forest fires, with some that burn with such intensity they can ignore whatever actively managed area stands in their path. Active management is still a valuable tool for fighting fires, but like any, it has limits.

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