Friday, March 29, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy with Tom Flynn

139403244Tom Flynn tracks policy related to conservation and recreation for the Outdoor Alliance. Most Fridays, he summarizes the week’s top outdoor policy related headlines. For questions, comments and angry hate mail, email him at tom [at] outdooralliance [dot] net.

With no post last week, this review is a two-week doubleheader.

Sally Jewell Gets One Step Closer to Secretary of Interior
Last week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 19-3 to recommend Sally Jewell for Secretary of the Interior. Senator Murkowski of Alaska threatened to hold the whole thing up over a 10-mile stretch of gravel, but her off-topic antics worked and she got the review she demanded. Sally now faces a confirmation vote by the whole Senate soon. Aren’t you glad your last job application was nothing like this?

Good News from the Courts: Roadless Rule and Mining Ban Upheld
The 12-year battle over roadless areas – nearly 60 million acres of backcountry national forest lands – has a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous. What you need to know is this: roadless areas are great places to play outside, they deserve protection, and a DC court just rejected the last legal challenge. Any future challenges will be up against the statue of limitations and the Roadless Rule stands. In another good decision, the ban on mining around the Grand Canyon was upheld, sorta. The courts ruled that the Interior Department did in fact have the authority to temporarily withdraw more than 1 million acres from mining. This could have been very bad had it gone the other way, but it’s not the last word – mining interests can still sue for other reasons.

Flurry of New National Monuments
On Monday, President Obama took matters into his own hands and declared five new national monuments. Unlike most other ways of protecting places, national monuments just need Presidential approval. A few signatures are all it takes, and now we have five new protected places to go. With culture, history and recreation, these national monuments in New Mexico, Maryland, Delaware, Washington and Ohio would make a heck of a road trip.

The Latest from Sequestration and the Sagebrush Rebellion
There has been a steady stream of news about two looming threats to the outdoors: the mandatory budget cuts of Sequestration and the federal land take-back skirmishes of the Sagebrush Rebellion. In the last two weeks, more National Parks announced their responses to Sequestration cuts. Acadia National Park in Maine will open a whole month late. Grand Teton National Park will have to hire fewer seasonal staff, including fewer of the famed Jenny Lake climbing rangers, probably leading to slower rescues. But some communities aren't taking these cuts sitting down. They got creative in Cody, WY where the Chamber of Commerce passed the hat to locals and raised funds for road plowing, saving the East Entrance of Yellowstone from opening two weeks late (and their town $2 million in revenues). Glacier National Park managed a similar trick, where a local Conservancy donated the cash to plow the Going-to-the-Sun Road. On the rebellion front, two non-binding resolutions demanding federal lands be transferred to the state passed the Idaho House and a Senate Committee, to an uncertain future, while a similar bill in the Colorado Senate finally died in committee. Over in Wyoming, the legislature allocated $30,000 of public funds to study the idea – precisely $30,000 more than it’s worth.

Friday, March 15, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy with Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn tracks policy related to conservation and recreation for the 
Outdoor Alliance. On Fridays, he summarizes the week’s top outdoor policy related headlines. For questions, comments and angry hate mail, email him at tom [at] outdooralliance [dot] net.

The Sequester Cuts Deep, Forcing National Parks to Scrape By
We knew the Sequester was going to be bad for the outdoors, but this week we started to see just how deep it was going to cut. The first to bleed: Yellowstone National Park. The Washington Post reported that 5% cuts meant that spring snow plowing would start two weeks late. This might not sound like much, until you imagine the business lost per day in local towns and the lost wages to seasonal workers that only have a 20-week season to begin with. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and there may be some hope. Officials in Cody and Jackson, WY considered raising their own money and using the Wyoming Department of Transportation to begin plowing earlier. But Yellowstone wasn’t the only National Park on the chopping block. Up in Glacier, the Park Service proposed delaying the opening of the Going-to-the-Sun Road by two weeks. Here, Secretary of Interior Salazar actually guessed the cost to local communities - at $1 million a day. Our nation’s best idea, and the communities that depend on it, are threatened by a political decision no one is proud of.

Debate Over Criminalizing Backcountry Skiing Alive After All
Previously, an effort to criminalize backcountry skiing in Vermont looked dead. It turns out that while the Vermont Senate bill to fine skiers $500 and hand down criminal charges was dropped, a similar bill in the House survived. Alongside it, another bill to hold the ski areas themselves responsible for rescue costs. The state ski area association still opposes both of these misguided House measures, and neither looks likely to pass. In Colorado, where the land outside ski area boundaries is usually Federal rather than State public land, there are no similar bills. With ski pass sales flat and backcountry skiing and snowboarding exploding, look for more debate in both the East and the West about ducking ropes, lift-accessed backcountry and the increase in rescues that seems all too likely.

Sagebrush Rebellion Festers On
A bunch of quixotic western states continue to demand control of all the Federal lands within their borders. In Idaho, there is still no binding bill proposed. But committees in the House are debating two non-binding resolutions. HCR 21 and 22, with many “whereas” and a sprinkling of “be it further resolved,” proclaim that the state must study and then demand the transfer of Federal lands. As bad as this may look, there is evidence that some states may come to their senses. Over in New Mexico, where a similar effort is underway, a bill to take back Federal lands is stalled – while a measure encouraging collaboration between the US Forest Service and the state sailed through unopposed. Collaboration, as one op-ed put it, may be slow and painful but it is often working. When it comes to managing public lands, cooperation at least has the advantage of being constitutional. Western states need to learn the playground lesson that it is far better to use your words to work things out, rather than demand your marbles back and go home.

Friday, March 8, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy with Tom Flynn

opTom Flynn tracks policy related to conservation and recreation for the Outdoor Alliance. On Fridays, he summarizes the week’s top outdoor policy related headlines. For questions, comments, and angry hate mail, email him at tom [at] outdooralliance [dot] net.

Sally Jewell Sends Confirmation Hearing (5.10 R)
Yesterday morning, President Obama’s nomination for Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, sat before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Subjected to a barrage of questions from the most specific to the most general, Ms. Jewell answered all with poise and diplomacy. Some questions she could not possibly have expected, like one Senator’s baiting query about her definition of a stream. Through it all, she even managed to crack a few jokes about her resume (“I thought you were going to say I can’t hold down a job”) and Western water rights (“Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting”). The range of questions illustrated the difficult job she faces at Interior. Her responses illustrated that she is up for the task, and ready to bring a balanced approach to the Department. The hearing ended with Senator Wyden acknowledging all the support Sally enjoyed from the environmental and human powered outdoor recreation communities. Without major opposition so far, she will likely be confirmed by the full Senate, as early as next week. 

Breaking News: Utah State Legislature the Subject of Ridicule
In an editorial this week, the Salt Lake Tribune begged their representatives to get with the program. While Utah state representatives wage unnecessary, unconstitutional or unfounded fights with the Federal government on a number of fronts, state-level issues go unaddressed. Let’s review some of the zingers – all, mind you, from just the last week and just on the public lands front. First, the winner for longest logical leap goes to the lawmakers that claimed that forests have been so mismanaged that al Qaida is looking to use them as a weapon of terror. By this logic, a bill and a resolution propose that local governments need authority over the US Forest Service. But that’s not all. How about a bill to allow grazing in Escalante, where grazing is already allowed? Or a whole host of other initiatives to limit Federal land management authority? Just one of the bills from this crash-reel would be cause for concern, but taken together they show a troubling and growing trend in the Utah statehouse.

The Forest Service Gets Smarter on Fighting Fire
Right as last year’s destructive fire season ramped up, the US Forest Service announced that all fires would be fought immediately. Even though the Agency acknowledged that this went against its better judgment – and that some fires should be allowed to burn – the policy seemed to be an effort to cut costs. At the time, this looked like a return to the old “every fire out by 10am” policy that led to the situation we face today. The intertwined ecological, social, political and economic implications of fires are dizzying, and no one claims it is easy to manage forest fires. But it is good news that the USFS shifted policy, allowing more flexibility to allow some fires to burn. It’s not looking good, but here’s hoping we have an easier time of it this year.

Hitchhiking Legalized in Wyoming
Ok, this did happen last week on Friday, but it is still important news for backcountry skiers. Ask most any backcountry skier or snowboarder about “skiing the Pass” and they will know you mean Teton Pass near Jackson, Wyoming. The Pass is legendary because a short hike yields amazing backcountry terrain– so long as you can hitch a ride back up. While hardly anyone was deterred by the law, it is now legal to hitch a ride in Wyoming. Go and ski the Pass!

Friday, March 1, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy with Tom Flynn


Tom Flynn tracks policy related to conservation and recreation for the Outdoor Alliance. Each Friday (when available) he summarizes the week's top outdoor policy related headlines. For questions, email him at tom [at] outdooralliance [dot] net.

Sally Jewell Nominated for Secretary of Interior
Much has been made of the fact that Sally doesn’t wear cowboy hats. Regardless of her choice of headwear, Sally Jewell’s nomination for Secretary of Interior is big, good news for all those that play outside. Mrs. Jewell’s experience ranges from oil fields to finance to the outdoor industry – a great mix for the Department of Interior, which manages everything from energy development to recreation on most of our public lands. Personally, Mrs. Jewell is a hiker, skier, climber, cyclist and conservationist. She knows how to lead, whether on the sharp end of a climbing rope or at the helm of a major corporation like REI. Public lands are called upon to be many things to many different people. Sally’s range of experience, personal commitment to outdoor recreation and leadership should bring a measure of balance to Interior. Now she faces a confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. Barring any hold ups, the Senate will probably confirm her next week. There are a couple of ways to show your support. Want to watch her confirmation hearing (not your average CSPAN)? Check back here 3/7 at 10am ET. 

Effort to Criminalize Vermont Backcountry Skiing Dropped
Last week, news broke that the Vermont state legislature was considering a bill to make it illegal to ski out of bounds in Vermont. Skiers ducking ropes and needing rescue would be charged and fined $500. Granted, it is a significant burden on rescuers to pull lost skiers out of the woods – all told, nearly 50 needed rescue near Killington, VT this year alone. But there are a whole host of problems with this proposal. A fine that only kicks in if you need help? That is like a speeding law that only penalizes drivers if they crash. In reality, most would assume they won’t need rescuing (as they do currently), and ski out of bounds with the same abandon as before. Also, if you are a dirtbag pow-seeking skier facing criminal charges and a $500 fine, would you call for help if you were lost? Heck no, you would dig in and spend the night, probably increasing your chances of injury or death. Not to mention the fact that the state of Vermont, like Maine and especially New Hampshire, can already fine you for rescue fees if you are deemed “reckless.” Thankfully, facing opposition from backcountry skiers, police and the ski area association, this boneheaded bill was dropped this week.

No Takebacks – The Second Coming of the Sagebrush Rebellion
Any six year old knows that when you give something away, you can’t ask for it back. Some Western states are testing this time honored rule, and not for the first time. With periodic fare-ups in the 40’s, 70’s and 90’s, a handful of Western states have sought to take back control of the millions of acres of Federal public land within their borders. Every version of this so-called Sagebrush Rebellion has failed, mostly because such demands are unconstitutional and states simply cannot afford the costs of managing the land. Undeterred, they are at it again. Last year, Utah actually passed a law demanding Federal lands be transfered to the state. This week, the Utah legislature forced the issue again. Other states are following suit, with Wyoming and New Mexico studying the legal costs of making such a demand, as well as the costs of firefighting, visitor services and everything else that goes into land management. Some states, however, are not joining the rebellion and Idaho postponed a take back bill, at least for another year. Hopefully more states will remember that there are no takebacks, and that these proposals are just as unconstitutional, financially unfeasible and shortsighted as they always have been. 

Besides All Else, Sequester Bad for Public Lands
One last quick note, the mandatory spending cuts known as the Sequester will probably go into effect later today. It is as though we dug ourselves a tiger trap so menacing no one would go near it - and then promptly walked right in. This will be bad. How bad and to what is debatable and better debated elsewhere. Suffice to say that our public lands will suffer. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management may have trouble hiring seasonal employees and keeping developed recreation areas open. The National Park Service may face 5% cuts, forcing even the Jenny Lake visitor center in Grand Teton to close.