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 If passed, this bill would force the sale of 3.3 million acres of land, based on a study that is nearly 20 years out of date.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.

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