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 The thing is, there has to be a better way than HR 1526’s outdated approach, which would hitch a town’s livelihood to unsustainable logging.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.

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