Friday, February 21, 2014

This Week in Outdoor Policy - February 21st

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.

Ski Areas Not Responsible for Avalanches?
Here’s a worrying idea. A Colorado court recently found that ski areas are not responsible for inbounds avalanches. The ruling came in the case of a skier killed in a slide at Winter Park back in 2012. The court argued that avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing inbounds, because they result from changes in snow, weather and terrain, all of which ski areas are already not responsible for. Though that definition of an avalanche is, strictly speaking, true, it seems like a stretch. It is a bit like arguing that Disneyland isn’t responsible for the weather, so it’s not their fault when a roller coaster rusts and breaks. Most skiers assume it is the resort’s job to prevent avalanches, just like it is an amusement park’s job to maintain rides. Why else would resorts close and bomb slopes? In fact, some laws in other states clearly say that avalanches are not an assumed risk on open slopes. With 16 people killed in avalanches in the US so far this season, ski areas are a welcome safe haven. Though there are exceptions, where skiers wear avalanche beacons at resorts, if this ruling stands, it could mean big changes for inbounds skiing in Colorado.

New Conservation in the West Poll ReleasedEvery year, Colorado College polls Western voters for their views on conservation. This year’s just released poll is not altogether surprising – unless you are a certain breed of Western politician, in which case you find yourself at odds with huge swaths of voters. The bipartisan survey in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Montana found that nearly 85% of voters believe closing national parks and forests hurts the economy, and that public lands should receive adequate funding. A similarly overwhelming majority, 72%, would be less likely to vote for someone that wants to sell off public lands. The main takeaway, revealed yet again? Public lands matter, no matter your political leaning. A full 95% of respondents visited public land in the last year, and most care deeply about them. Those elected officials that played a part in closing National Parks during the government shutdown, that seek to defund land management agencies at every turn, and that push for state ownership of public lands – take note.

Friday, February 14, 2014

This Week in Outdoor Policy - February 14th

Fat BIkeTom 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.

Fat Biking is Not a Crime…or is it?
If you haven’t noticed, the next big thing is here – fat bikes. Even though they are not exactly new, the availability and popularity of these mountain bikes with 4-inch wide tires has exploded across the West and Mid-West, with sales doubling every year. These bikes can be perfect for touring or riding in sand, but the main advantage - and as it turns out, source of conflict - is riding on snow. Now, the growing army of snow bikers has found itself crosswise with cross-country skiers. The primary reason is that fat bikes can leave ruts on groomed trails, upsetting skiers. As seems to be a rule, every new form of recreation somehow comes into conflict with existing forms, and it takes a while to adjust. Efforts to build awareness, like the recent Global Fat Bike Summit, will go a long way towards finding a happy coexistence between skiers and snow bikers – and a way to share techniques for avoiding conflict altogether, by grooming swoopy, singletrack, snow bike specific trails. While bearded bikers and spandex-clad skiers work things out, land management agencies need to catch up. They certainly need to clear up rules likes those that led to two well-meaning snow bikers getting fat tickets, despite the total absence of warning signs, for riding on snowmobile trails. Fat bikes have arrived, and hopefully they can be welcomed for what they are: another great way for more people to get outside.

Paddling Access Bill Draws Controversy
Last week, the US House of Representatives passed the River Paddling Protection Act. This bill, in a revised form, would set in potion the process of determining if paddling could be allowed on more rivers in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The next step from here, of course, is a bill in the Senate. But this week American Whitewater decided to stop supporting the legislative route. Though they did not initiate the legislation in the first place and actually testified in favor of crucial changes along the way, they have been supporting the efforts of Representatives Lummis and Bishop. This bill has sparked controversy and opposition from some, including the Department of the Interior. With luck, the conversation can continue even if the legislative route dries up, and the Park Service may yet be spurred to take a hard look at their paddling ban. Access for recreation is always a privilege rather than a right, but paddlers do have an entirely reasonable expectation to be given fair consideration. The management of treasured places like Yellowstone and Grand Teton often leads to heated debate. It bears remembering that the passion of those on both sides comes from deep-seated reverence for these places and for the ways we choose to enjoy them.