Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Week in Outdoor Policy - December 13th

MontanaTom 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.

Fed Land Grab Efforts Continue in Idaho…
Time to revisit everyone’s favorite public lands topic – the efforts of a slew of Western states to grab ownership or control of the Federal public lands within their borders. Last week in Idaho, the state legislative committee had another meeting, this one focused on public testimony. By most tallies it was a tie between those for it and those against. But the boosters, many of them from various tea party groups, had some jaw dropping arguments for state control – that rather than 50 second homes along one section of river, there should be 400, or that China will somehow repo our Federal lands. Statements like that aside, it is clear that many struggling counties in Idaho could benefit from improved public land management, even though state ownership is not the best way to get there.

...And Utah. And Montana.
Meanwhile, this week in Utah, the non-profit Southerland Institute’s Center for Self Government in the West released a legal analysis declaring the land grab totally constitutional, despite the opposite findings of the State’s own lawyers. The group’s URL is “endfedaddiction” and the shadowy, conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) seems to fund them, so you know they’re unbiased. This questionable finding followed another cautionary example of Utah making public lands decisions for financial gain alone, this time regarding water use for a proposed nuclear power plant. Speaking of unbiased (and ALEC), Utah Representative Ken Ivory was in Montana this week, spreading the good news about that state’s claim to Federal lands. His presentation came days after a public meeting where most came out to support Federal ownership. None of these skirmishes in ID, UT or MT advance the battle lines. Instead they show more and more how important it is for Federal public lands to stay in public hands.

New Conservation PAC Launched
It is a truth universally acknowledged that cash rules politics (see above). Given this regrettable reality, it is welcome news that former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and billionaire Louis Bacon (who incidentally just bought Taos) have teamed to up create the America’s Conservation PAC. As with other Political Action Committees, this one will funnel money into election campaigns, in this case for both Republican and Democratic candidates that are pro-conservation. Better news still is the appointment of Will Shafroth, a veteran of conservation in Colorado, as the director. Here’s to some political power for the rest of us.

Friday, December 6, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - December 6th

Ski TomTom 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.

Progress Towards Lifting National Park Boating Ban
As surprising as it may be, paddlers are banned from nearly all the rivers in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Now, a bill to lift that ban is working its way through Congress. The bill to throw out the 60-year-old ban, introduced by Wyoming representative Cynthia Lummis and cosponsored by Utah representative Rob Bishop, was recently discussed in committee. Although paddlers welcome the chance to gain access to amazing whitewater that now has to be run illegally, many would admit that such a legislative fix is not ideal. The National Park Service had a chance to reconsider the ban last summer, but failed to do so. This bill would go over their heads and make the decision for them. Such management by legislation has its problems, but a situation as deeply entrenched and illogical as this warrants it. So long as the Park Service is given the authority it needs to make the change, including enacting limits on the amount of boating – which paddlers welcome – the great rivers of Yellowstone and Grand Teton can be justly, legally and sustainably enjoyed by paddlers.

Ski Area Rules Modernized
The ski resort industry is less about simple lift-accessed skiing than ever before. Due to factors far beyond their boundaries, like climate change, the economic recession and people’s changing interests, resorts are paying more and more attention to the unlikely subjects of uphill skiing and summer activities. The law governing ski areas – at least those that operate on public land leased from the Forest Service – was brought up to date in 2011, with the passage of the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act. Now, the Forest Service has released their rules for how the law will be implemented. Broadly, these directives are good news for outdoor recreation. They support skinning uphill in bounds, allowing resorts the entirely reasonable option of charging for access, while “encouraging” free access too. The rules also state that approved facilities or activities themselves must “encourage” outdoor recreation and the enjoyment of nature. Some worry that the rules will usher in a plague upon our lands, with outbreaks of mountain coasters and other amusement park lesions. Indeed, the rules could be improved by clarifying some definitions to ensure that mountain biking, which is otherwise supported, is not lumped in with such ills. Overall, the rules are a welcome update for ski areas, which are ready-made places to get more people outdoors – accessing more trails and more skiing, both within and beyond the boundaries, all increasingly under their own power.