Friday, January 31, 2014

This Week in Outdoor Policy - January 31st



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 Good Bills Pass Committee

On Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee gave two river-related bills the nod, passing them on to the full House. First up, the River Paddling Protection Act, which will set in motion the process of lifting the ban on paddling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. When this bill first came out, there was concern about legislating what should be a management decision – essentially going over the heads of Park managers. But paddling leaders felt that the Park Service had forced their hand, by refusing to even consider paddling for so long. Crucially, the bill that just progressed is a new version, with changes to address these concerns. Now, the Park Service will have three years to lift the 60-year-old ban, “as determined by the director of the NPS.” Though the Department of the Interior still opposes the measure, it should strike a balance between leading the Park Service to change and maintaining their discretion to manage the environmental and social impacts of boating, by keeping armies of inner tubers away and even closing sections of rivers during certain times. Next up to pass committee, Montana Representative Steve Daines’ North Fork Watershed Protection Act. This bill would permanently protect 400,000 acres next to Glacier National Park from mining and other development. It enjoys bipartisan support, and a corresponding bill before the Senate – which, though no guarantee, gives this commendable conservation effort a fighting chance of actually becoming law. As surprising as it may be, Congress now has two good bills before them, protecting both places and experiences outside. The real surprise will be when they pass. 

Two Big Speeches on the Outdoors
This week, there were two big speeches – okay, one really big and one kinda big – that touched on outdoor policy. First, the biggie. On Tuesday, President Obama gave his State of the Union address, wherein he uttered the fateful words, “I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.” If your reaction to this is more stand-and-clap than sit-and-scowl, you know this is good news for the outdoors. The President is talking, of course, about National Monuments, the best way for him to protect places given a Congress that hasn’t passed squat. The woman largely in charge of where and how many National Monuments will go down, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, also gave a speech, this one at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City. Ms. Jewell, former head of REI, spoke of coming home to the outdoor industry, where the uniform is plaid instead of pinstripe. She’s now been in the deep end in Washington, DC for 9 months, where she’s had to deal with both sequestration and the government shutdown. The main point of her speech though was a sales pitch for “CCC 2.0” her vision for the next generation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Harkening back to the old days, where (with government dollars) the CCC quickly build much of the outdoor infrastructure we enjoy to this day, she is looking for $20 million from the private sector to make 100,000 youth conservation corps jobs possible. So far, she’s raised $1 million – anyone have $19 million more to spare?

Friday, January 3, 2014

This Week in Outdoor Policy - January 3rd

WolvesTom 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.


Hunter Hired to Eliminate Wolf Packs
Wolves dominated the outdoor policy news over the holidays. This is hardly surprising, considering the topic of wolves is rarely absent from any contentious Western public lands discussion – as a former Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service said, wolves are one of only two issues that bring grown men to tears. The recent uptick in the news started with word that Idaho Fish and Game had hired a professional hunter to eliminate two wolf packs in the Frank Church Wilderness around the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Now, a bit background. Wolves were protected as endangered, but recovered sufficiently to be de-listed in 2011. So now they are considered a game animal in Idaho (as well as Montana and Wyoming) and can be hunted and trapped. Fish and Game manages wildlife on public lands, so the goal of the hired hunt is to increase the number of elk and improve the hunting. But here’s what’s worrying. The whole reason they went to the trouble of hiring a hunter is the difficulty of getting into the Wilderness area. So who, exactly, are they improving the elk hunting for? It is hard to imagine a better place to let wolves and elk figure things out for themselves.

Coyote and Wolf Hunting Derby Goes Ahead
The debate kicked up a notch in the run up to a coyote and wolf hunting competition outside of Salmon, ID last weekend.  A pro-hunting group organized the event, charging entry fees and offering cash prizes for the most, and the biggest coyotes and wolves killed. A handful of environmental organizations sued to stop it, but a Federal judge gave it the go ahead on Friday. This was the first competitive wolf hunt since the species was listed as Endangered in the 70s. (Coyotes, on the other hand, are considered pests and can be shot on sight, competitively or otherwise.) Despite the relative novelty of the event, the suit was not about the hunting itself – the argument was over the need for a special use permit, just like that for a mountain bike race or other competition on public lands. The judge ruled no permit was necessary, in part because the organizers changed the entry fee to a donation and awarded the prizes on private land. Also they used Forest Service land instead of BLM land, where managers had determined a permit was required. In the end, the 250 participants killed 23 coyotes – and no wolves. Ultimately, the de-listed wolf debate will include more and more contentious issues like this derby. Here’s hoping both sides can commit to factual, good-faith arguments that help us maintain an environmentally and socially sustainable number of wolves.