Wednesday, August 28, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - August 29th

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.

Prime Land Secretly Leased for Oil and Gas in Utah
This week, news broke that 100,000 acres of the Book Cliffs, a hunting and fishing mecca south of Vernal, UT, had been leased for oil and gas development. This might sound like any old extractive energy lease, but there were many people that had been pushing hard to conserve the area, and they were quite surprised when the decision was made behind their backs. The issue is that the land is managed by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). Unlike Federal public land, which is managed for multiple uses and the overall public good, this land is managed to maximize its economic returns for Utah’s schools. So if the SITLA board strikes a huge, secret deal with an oil company, they’re just doing their job – tough cookies. This serves as a stark reminder of the difference between public land and state managed land, which is especially important given the efforts underway across the West – lead in large part by Utah – to transfer public land to state control. Federal management isn’t perfect, but this sort of back room deal would not have been possible on public land. Since the decision came out, hunting and fishing groups have cried foul and Utah’s governor asked the SITLA board to reconsider. Even Representative Rob Bishop, who is usually no great friend of land conservation but is in the middle of his own land management process for the region, mumbled that conserving the Book Cliffs is a “worthwhile endeavor.” What happens when you mix oil, gas, hunting, fishing, Rob Bishop, state management and school kids? Stay tuned.

Fingers Crossed for Yellowstone’s Winter Plan
After more than 15 years of back and forth, there might finally be a winter use plan for Yellowstone National Park. As the most recent of many attempts, the current plan signed last week is a good compromise, protecting the Park and balancing motorized and non-motorized use. Far from the dark days when there was so much exhaust in the air that Park Rangers wore respirators, wintertime in Yellowstone has improved significantly. Though no changes go into affect this season, the plan should do even more to protect wildlife, air quality and quiet places. Here’s hoping it sticks.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - August 23rd

160114445Tom 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.

Forest Service Moves More Cash to Keep Fighting Fires - Again
This week, the Forest Service announced that its budget to fight wildfires is running on empty. With only $50 million on hand – enough for a couple days’ worth of firefighting – they are taking $600 million from other programs, including recreation. So far this fire season has been bad, with an area the size of Connecticut burned, but perhaps not as bad as originally feared. That is what makes this budget shuffle so worrying: no one can claim they didn’t see this coming. It is, as some said, an entirely expected disaster. And it’s not even the first time the expected has seemed surprising. Somehow Congress and others continue to shortchange funds for preventing wildfires and for dealing with especially bad fire years. For 6 of the last 11 years, the Forest Service has had to dip into other pots of money to keep firefighting funded. Here is some basic math. Increasing fire danger + less money for fire prevention = a big mess. Yes, fighting fires is a priority. But that is no excuse to repeatedly ransack other, already underfunded programs. Congress and the Obama administration need to do the math from the outset, and give firefighting, especially fire prevention, the money it needs to get through the year. 

Different Cruise, Same Problems
The Middle Fork of the Salmon river is one of the most pristine, accessible wilderness floats in the lower 48, running 100 road-less miles through Idaho. It is certainly not the sort of place you would expect an outbreak of norovirus, the nasty intestinal bug that occasionally makes the rounds on dirty, crowded cruise ships. But with 50 people sick after floating the Middle Fork in the last month, norovirus is the likely culprit. For a river that sees 800 people a week, it is remarkably well managed and unspoiled. That does not mean, however, that norovirus transmission is impossible, given the amount of people using the same water stations, campsites and toilets. The Forest Service is collecting samples to identify the exact cause, but rafters should definitely take extra time to wash their hands and treat their water. For next year, rest assured, even though sun and water won’t kill the bug, the Idaho winter will.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Week in Outdoor Policy - August 9th


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.

Idaho Holds First Federal Land Grab Meeting
The front lines of the Sagebrush Rebellion were in Idaho this week, where the legislature’s Federal Lands Interim Committee held its first meeting. For the moment, Idaho is the most active of the eight western states that are looking to grab control of the Federal lands within their borders. The point of this committee is to study the idea of public land transfer, which is a little confusing, considering there is already a resolution that demands it. But no matter, the committee will spend the next year and a half holding hearings and making recommendations. This first hearing had presentations on the history of public lands in Idaho and featured a thorough treatise (with a blinding, wall-to-wall-text powerpoint) on the alleged constitutionality of the transfer. In reality, the hearing raised more questions than it answered. One good question might be: legal or not, would this really improve things? Sure, the current system of Federal control is not perfect, but it mostly works. 73% of Idaho voters think protecting public lands is one of the things the Feds do well. There is plenty room for experimentation and improvement, and a lot of the current collaborative efforts are leading the way. On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons to believe state control would be no better. The biggest reason is money. Idaho cannot hope to match what the Federal government spends (already too little) to manage and maintain public land, meaning much of it would have to be sold. The committee should have plenty of time to wade through all the legalese and realize what a bad idea this is for the outdoors. 

Utah Leads the Way With New Outdoor Recreation Office
Last week’s Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake was something of the unofficial launch for Utah’s Office of Outdoor Recreation. The first of its kind in the nation, this department in the Governor’s office is tasked with implementing a far ranging vision for recreation, which they came up with last winter. Whether or not this vision is even achievable, the mere creation of this office shows a welcome acknowledgement of the importance of outdoor recreation in Utah. Hopefully this office can meet its goals of coordinating with the outdoor industry and boosting outdoor recreation. From a state that too often leads the way on frightening public lands proposals, here is an example other states could actually follow.