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?

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