Friday, October 18, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - October 18th

Government Turns the Lights Back OnTom 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.

Government Turns the Lights Back On
This week’s news in one sentence: the government was off, but now it’s back on. National Parks, Wildlife Refuges and facilities on other federal lands reopened, and people rushed back in. The climbers in Yosemite that were told by megaphone earlier this week to “Stop recreating,” were allowed to happily continue their climbs. Amongst all the bad, there was some good news during the shutdown. Often overlooked state parks got a well-deserved boost in visitation, including Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah, which boasts a great mountain bike loop. And just last weekend, the Department of Interior approved state funding to reopen some of the top parks in Utah, Colorado and Arizona. No doubt, if you were one of the lucky few that managed to launch on the Grand Canyon during that window, you are stoked.

But amongst the many more grievous impacts of the shutdown, one fall out was those that came out of the woodwork to claim that the whole thing makes the case for state ownership of public lands. Not so. These arguments fail to realize that as bad as the shutdown was, state ownership would be worse. To take but one example, forest service land remained public land and largely accessible (even if the bathrooms were locked). Under state ownership, much of this land would necessarily be sold to finance the management of what was left, eliminating access entirely. More land would be sold and gone under state management than was ever shut off by the shutdown. The more accurate conclusion to draw from the 16 days of shutdown? People care about our federal lands, so keep the government on and give our lands the funding they deserve. At the very least, don’t add insult to injury as some did this week, by dragging the National Park Service before a Congressional committee and berating them for doing their job.

Friday, October 4, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - October 4th

Government shutdownTom 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.

Shutdown and Shut Out
This week all attention turned to the government shutdown. The affects of the hiatus reach most every corner of our society and economy. Sure, if you are furloughed or are in a federally funded medical trial, you probably aren’t giving public lands a second thought. But politics aside, the shutdown’s affects on our public lands are serious. Right now, all 401 National Parks remain forcibly closed, costing nearby communities $228 million dollars and counting. National Wildlife Refuges are also closed, right on the cusp of hunting season, as are facilities, if not access, on other public lands. Western towns, international vacationers, Yosemite climbers and too many others to list are feeling the shutout. Amongst the worst hit are those that had been planning to launch on the Grand Canyon. After years of trying for a permit and making plans for the trip of a lifetime, rafters find themselves locked out. You would think the shutdown actually shut off the Colorado River. The whole situation is almost too ridiculous to believe. Meanwhile, a House Natural Resources subcommittee found (paid) time this week to discuss the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act. If passed, this bill would force the sale of 3.3 million acres of land, based on a study that is nearly 20 years out of date. How they can consider the forced sale of public lands, when the ongoing shutdown shows just how much these lands matter to all of us, is unclear. If any good can come of the shutdown, it would be the mobilization of people to vote in favor of our National Parks and public lands – cause you only know what you have when it’s gone.

Some Reform for Utah Trust Lands Administration
Recently, Utah’s agency that manages lands for revenue for schools found itself attacked by everyone from hunters and anglers to the Governor and Congressional delegation. At issue was the secret lease of a prime roadless area for oil and gas. The School and Institutional Lands Administration, SITLA, heeded the outcry and backed off the Book Cliffs deal. Now, they have announced the creation of an advisory committee to raise concerns beyond pure monetary gain. Though this reform is a step in the right direction, the SITLA board is not going willingly. They maintain that they cannot manage land for “specific interest groups or the public at large.” With an attitude like that, it seems unlikely the new advisory committee will find its recommendations heard, or that a decision like the Book Cliffs will be avoided in the future.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - September 27th

TetonsTom 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.

Bad Timber Bill Passes House
Last Friday, the House passed HR 1526, the so-called Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act – which, if finalized, would achieve neither. The main point of the bill is to require the Forest Service to designate “Forest Reserve Revenue Areas” where the amount of logging would drastically increase. The bill claims this would be sustainable, in some sense, because trees would be cut down at a slower rate than they can grow back. But it is hard to imagine sustainable harvests and healthy forests with a national minimum for logging and the ever present incentive to log more. Or, for that matter, with the bill’s other points, which override the Endangered Species Act and other longstanding checks on logging. As if that weren’t enough, the bill would also eliminate restrictions on recreation within the Revenue Areas – throwing out any hard won balance between motorized and non-motorized recreation. Though this bill is a pile through and through, the justification for it is clear. Western towns that used to rely on logging for county funding have had to rely on the Secure Rural Schools program for government cash handouts. With that program expiring soon, they are desperately looking for ways to keep schools open and roads maintained. The thing is, there has to be a better way than HR 1526’s outdated approach, which would hitch a town’s livelihood to unsustainable logging. Thankfully, the bill won’t pass the Senate and President Obama has vowed to veto it, should it come to that.

Grand Teton Visitor Center to Shutter for Winter
If you have been to Grant Teton National Park, you have probably been in the beautiful visitor center in the town of Moose, WY, with its steep roofs and huge windows framing the Grand. This week, the National Park service announced that the center would close for the winter, due to budget cuts. It’s hard to blame the agency, considering sequestration and the fact that more people visit the center in one day in July than in the whole month of November – with all those windows, it is awfully expensive to heat the place for just a couple of cold ski mountaineers. That said, in a tourist economy that could always use more “off” season visitors, this is unwelcome news. There is a certain indignity to have some people hinting that private fundraising, like that which got the roads plowed last spring, could keep the visitor center open. Have we sunk so low that America’s best idea has to have a bake sale to keep the lights on? Those that determine agency budgets, for the Park Service and others, need to seriously weigh the hefty benefits from National Parks and public land against the crumbs we seem willing to send them.