Friday, June 21, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - June 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.

Mountain Biking Approved on New Section of the Continental Divide Trail
Great, unexpected news for Colorado mountain bikers this week. Last winter, word came out that the Forest Service was going to reroute a section of the Continental Divide Trail in southern Colorado. This should have been good news, except that bikes were going to be outlawed from the new singletrack and forced to use the old (read: lame) route on dirt roads. Mountain bikers, lead by IMBA, spoke up and the Forest Service changed course, deciding to allow bikes on the new section. The agency gave two very encouraging reasons why they made this call. First, they issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (say “FONSI”), a wonky technical document that used solid science to show that bikes have a limited impact on trails. Second, they acknowledged that the National Trails Act – which governs this trail and others like it – calls for maximizing both outdoor recreation potential and chances for volunteer help. Allowing mountain biking does both by adding a low impact way to get outside and pulling in the legions of mountain bikers willing to do trail work. While the clearance for 31 miles of new rideable singletrack is great news, the really exciting thing is that this decision could be the key that unlocks more riding in more places in the future. 

State Representative Aims for Speed Record on the Idaho Centennial Trail
The Idaho Centennial Trial runs 950 miles from Nevada to Canada, right through the middle of the state and some of the wildest backcountry areas in the lower 48: the Sawtooths, the Frank Church, the Selway-Bitterroot, and the Selkirks. This August, Idaho state representative Mat Erpelding plans to set the speed record for hiking the length of the trail. It’s not every state rep that can take on a trip this big – one with so much wild country, not to mention so much trudging through hot, flat fields of sagebrush. Besides the experience, the purpose of the trip is to support a non-profit called the Redside Foundation. This organization plays a unique roll in Idaho, by providing training and physical and mental health services for commercial guides. All in all, good news for the outdoors in Idaho, with an elected official that gets it supporting an organization that helps guides help people get outside.

Good Land Protection Bills Pass Committee and Senate
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee has been busy lately. This week, they passed a slew of bills out of committee, with bipartisan support. These included the North Fork Watershed Protection Act for Montana and the San Juan Mountain Wilderness Act for Colorado. Both of these are good news for those that love the outdoors (including mountain bikers). These bills still face a floor vote in the Senate and then the House, but hey, land protection bills are making it further through the process than they have in a long time. In fact, late Wednesday night, the Senate actually passed a few bills, including one to designate new Wilderness and new Wild and Scenic rivers in Washington state. Maybe there is hope for successful land protection this Congress after all.

New Equal Ground Campaign Launched
One last note. This week, the Center for American Progress and other organizations launched a new campaign and released a new poll to go with it. The main finding of the poll was that 65% of Westerners support protecting the outdoors for future generations, while only 30% support oil and gas drilling on public lands. This finding supports their new “Equal Ground” campaign, aimed at balancing the amount of land protected with the amount of land opened up to energy development. Fact is, President Obama has designated 2.5 times more acres for drilling than for permanent protection. Improving that ratio by doing a better job balancing protection and development doesn’t seem like too much to ask for.

Friday, June 14, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - June 14th

PackraftTom 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.


Paddlers Plead for Access in National Parks
Did you know that paddling is not allowed on the rivers in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks? You would be right to think this sounds a little ridiculous, considering you can land planes, drive RVs and ride snowmachines in parts of the Parks. Even though all that’s allowed, boating is forbidden on all Park rivers except one section of the Snake and the Lewis River Channel. This week, the American Packrafting Association asked the Park Service to rethink the ban and give boaters access. Though unique, the ban is not new. It all started in Yellowstone in the 50s, in an effort to protect the fishing. Since then, the prohibitive policy has been blindly passed down, with minimal and flawed studies of the justification for it. The Park Service has a tough job balancing access for people and protection for stream environments. Boaters acknowledge this, and there are processes already in place to monitor and limit impacts. But to double down on a policy with little to no factual basis makes it seem like the agency is just saying “No” because it is easier that doing their due diligence. It is especially hard to understand their stance when they claim that boating has a greater impact that off trail hiking. If you’ve ever seen a packraft, they weigh about 10 pounds and deflate to fit in a backpack – hardy a weapon for mass river destruction. What’s called for is a real, scientific assessment of the impacts of boating. With many of these rivers recently designated Wild and Scenic, now is the time to reconsider the boating ban.


Forest Service Approves New Mountain Bike Trails in Sun Valley
Also this week, some better outdoor policy news. The Forest Service in Sun Valley, Idaho approved the construction of 11 miles of new mountain bike trails. The new singletrack will connect with existing trails, all within the Sun Valley ski area boundary. The trails will be designed as flow trails, with all the buttery smooth rolls and berms that make them a tasty part of a balanced singletrack diet. But perhaps more significant than the addition of new trails is the Forest Service’s thinking behind it. In the announcement about the decision, the District Ranger said that “concentrating new “flow” trail construction within an existing ski area makes both economic and environmental sense.” Now that’s the right attitude. While over on Mt. Hood some are suing the Forest Service over new trail construction at the ski area, it’s good news to see the agency make the right call, for the right reasons.

Friday, June 7, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - June 7th

Tom Fishing
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.

States Still Trying to Stick It to the Feds…
The land-grab battle between Western states and the Federal government continues. Right now there are five states trying to gain control of the Federal lands within their borders: Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Montana and Idaho. All have passed proposals of some sort or another, all of which are bad news bears. Now these states might even band together to present a unified front. If any land were transferred to the states, it is clear what would happen, according to the leading multi-state rabble-rouser: land would either be sold or the rate of destructive energy development would increase. Even assuming no land changes hands, there are still plenty of dangers in the meantime. Most of these states are currently spending or actively setting aside taxpayer dollars to study or eventually defend these harebrained ideas. Maybe worse, these proposals are so out there that they can make other, still crazy ideas seem halfway sane. Oh, let’s say the states don’t want actual ownership, just control of the land management? Still crazy. In that case, in Idaho for example, the land would be managed by the Department of Lands and therefore explicitly NOT public lands. The reasons go on, but the fact is: these efforts are aimed at stealing public land that belongs to all of us.

…And Utah is Trying Especially Hard
As if all this about state ownership of federal lands weren’t enough, Utah is leading the charge on some new fronts. Unsatisfied with just unconstitutionally demanding federal lands, officials there are badgering federal land managers and picking fights over ownership of non-existent roads. State lawmakers are challenging the ability of BLM and Forest Service employees to enforce speeding and gun laws. Meanwhile, some counties are trying to assert themselves over the Feds by suing for ownership of “roads,” also known as indecipherable dirt tracks, despite what the county residents actually want. Whether or not any of these multiple attacks to federal ownership and authority succeed, they show a coordinated, determined effort to degrade our public land legacy – bad news for the outdoors.

Talk of National Monument For Idaho’s Boulder-White Clouds
Few remaining places are so deserving of protection as the Boulder and White Cloud mountains between Stanley and Sun Valley, Idaho. Now, there is talk of a national monument designation that could give them the protection they deserve, while keeping the access we want. Part of the region has enjoyed some protection for the last forty years as the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. But other parts still aren’t protected enough, despite Congressman Simpson’s decade-long push for Wilderness for the Boulder-White Clouds. There are a couple of attractive things about the national monument route. It could be highly protective, but still allow access for mountain bikes on elite trails. It could mean more funding for tail maintenance and more support for the local economy. And, a biggie, it could be created by the President alone, without having to break through the stonewall of Congress. Though still in the early stages, a window for compromise is now open. But it won’t stay that way for long. There isn’t much time to reach an agreement and designate a monument before President Obama leaves office, and this isn’t the only potential monument vying for his attention.