Outdoor Advocacy

This Week in Outdoor Policy – November 15th

Side CountryTom 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. 

Sidecountry: What’s in a name?
It’s that time of year again, where both snow and headlines about backcountry skiers caught in avalanches begin to pile up. All this means renewed attention on the concept of “sidecountry” – the untracked, unpatrolled and un-avalanche-controlled terrain just outside resort boundaries, tempting all with its siren call. With ticket sales at resorts falling while backcountry gear sales soar, it is becoming more and more important to figure out just what to do with this adjacent backcountry – what is it called? And how do we manage the legions of skiers drawn to it? “Sidecountry” is a problematic term to many, suggesting slopes just outside resorts are somehow safer than the backcountry. Last year, the National Ski Areas Association proclaimed that “sidecountry” doesn’t actually exist. Powder Magazine pronounced it dead. This is all great, but perception can be reality. Evidence of skiers taking adjacent backcountry lightly abound. Just read the NY Time’s award winning multi media piece (and group dynamics case study) Snow Fall, about the avalanche at Washington’s Tunnel Creek. Even if skiers and ski areas settle on a new term, like “lift-accessed backcountry”, there are still other questions that need answers. Some access gates feature images of sculls and crossbones and bold letters reading YOU CAN DIE. While it seems the message couldn’t be clearer, what if it actually inspires some people? Are beacon check stations, which blink green when they recognize a transceiver, more effective? Hopefully the whole skiing community can find answers to these questions this season, allowing more and more properly educated and equipped skiers to experience the inspiring joy of the backcountry. 

Utah Motorized Plan Overturned
Last week, a Federal Judge overturned a controversial management plan for motorized use on 2 million acres of the Bureau of Land Management’s Richfield district in Utah. The court decided that the BLM did not adequately address the impacts ATVs can have on the environment and archeological sites, sending the agency back to the drawing board. The lawsuit against the plan, instituted in the final days of President George W Bush’s term, was brought by the Southern Utah Wilderness Association and Earthjustice. Though these groups rightly claim a victory for the landscape, it is hard not to wonder how well this plan-sue-repeat approach is actually working. There are hopeful signs that many land management agencies are finding ways out of this often vicious, wasteful cycle. Top amongst these is the BLM’s landscape scale planning. Though touted as a breakthrough, the idea is basic – look at big chunks of land, including all the land agencies, and figure out the best places for recreation, permanent protection, energy extraction and, conceivably, motorized use.

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