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.
Two Pro Public Land Op-eds
With the government shutdown old news already, many are trying to figure out what it all meant. Two recent and highly recommended opinion pieces draw the right conclusions: that the debacle of the shutdown showed us just how valuable public lands are, and how problematic state take over would be. In the first, Black Diamond’s dedicated CEO Peter Metcalf points out how much federal lands are worth, to rural economies, to small businesses like his, to Utahns and to all Americans that visit their public lands in that state. He points a finger directly at the hypocrisy of counties that criticize public lands at every turn – but declare a state of emergency when they are closed. In the second recent piece, the chairman of the Center for American Progress also highlights the economic impact of public lands, especially National Parks, the budget for which has been slashed 13% in the last three years, despite their value and increasing visitation. He also calls on Congress and the Administration to protect more lands, citing the alarming fact that the last Congress was the first Congress since WWII to permanently protect exactly ZERO acres of public land.
Idaho Federal Lands Committee Meets Again
On Monday, Idaho’s Federal Lands Interim Committee held its second meeting. The Committee is considering if and how the state should take over all Federal public land within its borders, as demanded by the Legislature. This meeting featured 8 hours of testimony from a huge range of interests, the summation of all of which could be, “Who thinks this is a good idea anyways?” With panels on Tribes, wildlife, grazing, conservation and timber, most were openly opposed to state ownership. One tribal representative made the point that if the Feds were going to give the land to anyone, it should be the Tribes. The grazing interests did support the idea – provided they did not have to pay higher fees to use the newly acquired state land (which would almost certainly happen) and that there was no competitive bidding (which doesn’t sound like capitalism). Hopefully the committee recognized that there are some serious questions about all this. For those that love the outdoors, the top questions are, how much public land will have to be sold when the state cannot match what the Federal government pays? And what will happen to some of the best places in Idaho, like the Sawtooths, the Middle Fork of the Salmon or even the Boise Foothills, when they are managed by the state, and therefore no longer public lands?
Secretary Jewell Delivers a Challenge
Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell gave one of the first major speeches of her term on Thursday, talking about protected places and drilling. She showed that she understands what the outdoors mean to all of us and our economy, saying that public land “drives the economy and feeds the soul.” Crucially, she threw down something of a challenge: Congress should work to protect places, but if they won’t, the Administration will. All of this is an effort to restore some sort of balance between lands leased for energy development and lands permanently protected. Her speech is the latest example of hopeful momentum for consensus-based land protection bills, like that for Hermosa Creek in Colorado, and for National Monument designations, like the Boulder-White Clouds.